Merle Haggard

Let Me Tell You About a Song

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Merle Haggard designed 1972's Let Me Tell You About a Song as a kind of musical autobiography, crafted in equal parts from personal reminiscence and from songs that formed the core of Hag the musician. So, in a way, the album brings together two big themes within Haggard's recording career -- tribute albums and a rose-colored, nostalgic view of the past -- and it does so smashingly. A project like this can't help but succumb to corniness on occasion, which this certainly does, particularly in the spoken recitations that pepper the album (he is, after all, telling you about a song on this record) and on the hit opening track, "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)," a tale about a traveling family band with a blind father and a deaf mother who "read our lips and helped the family sing," a story that Haggard says explains itself but only gets more mystifying with each listen. Some could also argue that his tribute to his recently deceased grandmother, "Grandma Harp," is also a little corny, but it gets through on its heart, and the rest of the album is so remarkably clear-eyed, even with those spoken introductions, that it makes up for the slight silliness. The album is pretty evenly divided between originals and covers, and the two hits -- the aforementioned "Daddy Frank" and "Grandma Harp" -- are actually the slightest numbers here, since they sit next to the stark autobiographical "They're Tearing the Labor Camps Down," the beautiful barroom ballad "Turnin' Off a Memory," and "Irma Jackson," a song about an interracial romance that Haggard was finally able to release on this record. These songs are contrasted by the covers: one song by Red Simpson, one by Red Foley, and two each by his heroes Tommy Collins and Bob Wills. None of these songs were hits and, in fact, apart from Wills' "A Maiden's Prayer," they're not particularly well-known, which only emphasizes Haggard's connection to the music, and helps ties together the album into the musical biography that was intended. It's quite a journey, and it's yet another excellent record from an artist who at this time in his career seemed capable of delivering nothing less.

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