Merle Haggard

David Allan Coe Presents Merle Haggard

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Apparently David Allan Coe has gotten into the business on the executive side of the fence. Coe Pop has issued its first three titles, Whoopsy Daisy, a double-CD audio book by Coe, and a pair of compilations by two country music legends: this one by Merle Haggard and another by Patsy Cline. Rather than just repackage material with an artist's best-known tracks haphazardly thrown together, Coe has done what he always does: pulled an iconoclastic move that makes these discs worth having. Coe has personally licensed tracks that he feels are representative of an artist's creativity and consummate contribution to the history of country music. In Haggard's case, it's impossible not to put well-known tracks on a CD, but Coe has chosen a wondrous selection of material, focusing on the complexities of the man's songwriting, the very stuff that has made him a living legend. Here are "Hungry Eyes" and "If We Make It Through December" opening the set, two songs about poverty and need, followed by one about heartbreak and hopelessness in "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink." Despair replaces hurt in "Mama Tried," and then come the tough sides of a performer who has been on the right and wrong sides of the fence at the same time -- "Okie from Muskogee" and "Fightin' Side of Me" both make appearances here, but so does the amazing and underappreciated anthem "Ramblin' Fever," which evokes Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, and Woody Guthrie. In "Silver Wings," the notion of travel and escape as well as the romance with open spaces are underlined from the previous track, and the set closes back in the familiar Haggard territories of poetic love songs ("Today I Started Loving You Again") and tomes about the plight of blue-collar women and men ("Workin' Man Blues"). What Coe did here is construct a revolving-door aural presentation of Haggard as American poet and tunesmith. This is a fine compilation, carefully considered and presented with excellent remastered sound.

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