Merle Haggard & the Strangers

Pride in What I Am

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Continuing with the subtle folk streak running beneath The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde and Mama Tried, Merle Haggard turned in one of his finest efforts to date in 1969's Pride in What I Am. While there are no flat-out classics outside of "I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am" -- it's the only track on the album here that was a hit -- the album is certainly not lacking in strong material. In fact, it gains considerable strength from a diversity of material, where the rolling, folk-tinged sound epitomized by the title song is balanced by twangy, spare country and bits of hard honky tonk, blues, and cowboy, not to mention the slyly inventive arrangement on his version of Lefty Frizzell's "It Meant Goodbye to Me When You Said Hello to Him." There are also hints of the direction Hag would take in the near future, including a Jimmie Rodgers song (his tribute to the singing brakeman, Same Train, Different Time, would follow next), and the encroaching celebration of a time passed, though his cover of Red Simpson's "I Think We're Livin' in the Good Old Days." There is another Simpson cover in "Somewhere on Skid Row," but what fuels Pride in What I Am is a selection of graceful, low-key minor masterworks from Haggard himself, who explores gentler territory with "The Day the Rains Came" and "I Can't Hold Myself In Line," while kicking up the tempo with the delightful "I'm Bringin' Home Good News" and laying back with the steady-rolling "I Just Want to Look at You One More Time." None of these may be among his most celebrated songs, but they're all small gems that illustrate what a fine songwriter he is. They also help form the core of this subtly adventurous, rich album that may not be among his flashiest, but is another excellent record by one of the most reliable recording artists in country history.

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