Merle Haggard is known outside of country music circles mostly for his tough-guy outlaw image, with a slew of prison and hard-living songs. But he is also capable of writing devastating songs about heartbreak and human nature. As with a few other great country songwriters, much of Haggard's material seems to exemplify the oft-quoted Shakespearean edict from Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true." Haggard's narrators, like the Bard's, usually have to undergo a sort of journey to finally arrive at such truth. Haggard usually wraps it all up in less than four minutes. Over a loping acoustic guitar, Haggard begins the refrain in his most tender and vulnerably boyish voice: "Today I started loving you again/I'm right back where I've really always been/I got over you just long enough to let my heartaches mend/And today, I started loving you again." He lays in a simple seventh chord on "just long enough," a country music classic, if not a cliché, but one that induces shivers; you know it is coming, but there's still no preparing for it -- some things just work. "Today I Started Loving You Again" -- written with Haggard's one-time wife, Bonnie Owens, who also happened to be the former wife of his friend and fellow Bakersfield sound pioneer, Buck Owens -- was something of an unexpected hit, a B-side on the "Bonnie and Clyde" single that took off on its own via listener response and requests to radio stations. With over 400 recordings of the song, there are sure to be some oddballs in the batch. The Lettermen, of all groups, covered the song, giving it an ultra-smooth, Carpenters-meet-the Four Freshmen approach that somehow works. This is not really as surprising as it first seems when one considers the fact that Haggard, the first country artist to appear in the celebrated jazz journal Downbeat, has often cited Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra alongside his other influences like Lefty Frizell and Bob Wills. Like Sinatra and Frizell, as well as his friend Willie Nelson, Haggard inhabits a song, experimenting with phrasing and hanging on certain words for effect. Though he was often considered a rebel against the smooth countrypolitan sound out of Nashville, he continues the cross-pollination -- for which Wills was known -- of country music with jazz elements, as well as rock & roll, folk, blues, and other American music forms. The original "Today I Started Loving You Again," though, is unadulterated honky tonk; a real crying-in-your-beer song. A strong man admits his weakness and his mistake, crawling back with his tail between his legs.