Merle Haggard

The Best of Merle Haggard [Capitol 2009]

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As early as 1972, Merle Haggard hits albums bore titles that cracked jokes at the use of "best" in their names -- Truly the Best of Merle Haggard and The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard being his second two compilations -- so way down the line in 2009, after decades of albums called "The Best" and just three years after Capitol put out an excellent, generous single-disc called Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard, the label has stripped down to bare bones for 2009's The Best of Merle Haggard. The set is as basic as its title: just ten tracks, all hits, packaged in a thin "eco-friendly" sleeve that feels like an advertisement for its accompanying digital download version. The song selections ever so slightly favor '70s material, with "Soldier's Last Letter" and "Everybody's Had the Blues" standing in for "The Bottle Let Me Down" and "Sing Me Back Home," which may feel a bit off to some tastes, but everything here is superb, so it's a worthwhile sampler even if 2006's Hag paints a fuller, richer picture.

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