Merle Haggard

The Ultimate Collection

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If Hip-O's The Ultimate Collection doesn't come close to fulfilling the promise of its title, it's because Hip-O is a division of Universal, which also owns MCA. That means that this 20-track collection leans heavily on Merle Haggard's late-'70s recordings for MCA, containing only four singles from his classic '60s stint at Capitol, plus three cuts from his time at Epic in the '80s. In other words, a huge portion of his greatest music is missing. Still, this is Hag that we're talking about, and even if his MCA work pales in comparison to his Capitol recordings, it's still very good to great, and when it's presented in a compilation like this, it seems particularly good. That's because the compilers did an excellent job of picking the highlights from Haggard's time at MCA; even if they did tend to lean on his biggest hits, that still results in a good listen. In fact, it's a bit of a shame that there are Capitol and Epic selections here; since so much of this is devoted to MCA, it's hard not to think The Ultimate Collection would be stronger (and more necessary to some Haggard collectors) if it just was devoted to that label. Still, what's here is really good, making The Ultimate Collection a good sampler of his mid-period work, even if it falls short of its title promise.

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