Merle Haggard & the Strangers / Merle Haggard

The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde

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Seven albums in, Merle Haggard began to reach out a little further than his trademark Bakersfield country with The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde. While the title may imply that this record is a concept album, Haggard's celebration of the legendary outlaws -- inspired by Arthur Penn's 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the title roles -- doesn't extend past the opening title track, nor does the ramped-up, neo-bluegrass of that song (featuring banjo by no less than Glen Campbell) echo throughout the record. Instead, it settles into a nice, mellow groove, building on the Bakersfield ballad style patented by such artists as Wynn Stewart and Tommy Collins (whose "Fool's Castle" is covered here), adding slightly stronger folk influences and maintaining a reflective mood. Haggard relies on material from several different writers here, recording three songs by Dallas Frazier -- "Love Has a Mind of Its Own," "The Train Never Stops (At Our Town)," "Will You Visit Me on Sundays?" -- the Leon Payne tune "You Still Have a Place in My Heart," plus "Money Tree," originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell. None of these are conventional choices, and they're given fine interpretations by Haggard, who also contributes two solid songs in "My Ramona" and "Because You Can't Be Mine." However, they're all overshadowed by "I Started Loving You Again," the timeless ballad Haggard co-wrote with Bonnie Owens that stands as one of his greatest moments. Its presence along with the terrific title track and Haggard & the Strangers' restless but quiet musical exploration make The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde another typically excellent album from Hag, who was on a hell of a hot streak late in the '60s, which this simply continues.

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