Razor & Tie's 1995 collection The Lonesome Fugitive: The Merle Haggard Anthology (1963-1977) is the gold-standard among Hag collections, containing 40 songs from his classic years at Capitol Records (plus a couple of early singles originally released on Tally, later acquired by Capitol). While there are two box sets -- Capitol's essential Down Every Road and Bear Family's excellent complete recordings, Untamed Hawk -- this is the only hits collection to be both comprehensive and concise, containing all the big hits and major songs on one compulsively listenable collection. It's not just that this has all the hits, since it does, it's that the collection chronologically follows his charting singles from 1963's "Sing a Sad Song" to 1977's "A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today," skipping only a couple of mid-'70s hits toward the end, adding the timeless "Today I Started Loving You Again" on the first disc, thereby offering a streamlined summary of his period of greatest creativity and commercial success. While Haggard certainly has many terrific, even classic, songs from the 15 years covered here that didn't make the cut, the hits -- and every song outside of "Today I Started Loving You Again" charted, including a staggering 22 country number ones -- illustrate his growth as both a songwriter and musician and constitute one of the greatest bodies of work in American popular music. It's possible to dig deeper -- and most serious listeners owe it to themselves to dig deeper, acquiring either or both of the aforementioned boxes, along with proper albums -- but this not only serves as an ideal introduction, it's a perfect summary of Haggard's work and a necessary cornerstone of any country collection.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
feat: Bonnie Owens
Track Listing - Disc 2