Online since August 2002

Still waving the Bakersfield flag

Reviewed May 2010

I Am What I Am
I Am What I Am
By Merle Haggard

Vanguard: 2010

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

That we get to listen to a new Merle Haggard release here in year 2010, some 50 years after his first single was released, is pure undisguised blessing. That he's still able to turn out stellar songs, and sing them with conviction and grace, only amplifies the pleasure of "I Am What I Am."

Along with Willie Nelson, Haggard is senior statesman of country music – staying productive and alive for a long time will do that for you. But imagine if Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were still among golf's greatest players, if Ken Norton and Joe Frazier could still fight.

Because Haggard still has the chops to go with all the knowledge and wisdom he's accumulated through the years. That combination of experience and undiminished skill makes his latest outing among his very best.

As always, Haggard &150; proud standard-bearer of the Bakersfield sound in traditional country – distills just about the entire spectrum of American music into his own songs. Yeah, he's old-school country – as old-school as it gets – but there are huge swaths of jazz, blues and swing in his songs, too.

And he's still writing as well as he ever has – pretty impressive in a career that's seen literally dozens of No. 1 hits. Put "I've Seen it Go Away" in a time capsule and send it back to 1977, and would join those chart-toppers. Listen to his gentle lyrics about how a long life will reveal the cycles of history and try not to smile. It's as good a song as that old songwriter has yet turned out. His nod to vintage south-of-the-border music in "Mexican Bands" would sound absolutely at home in a Tom Russell set list, while "I Am What I Am" is an unapologetic look at his life to date.

Now in his 70s, Haggard's voice isn't what it once was. He's lost some of his high end, and there's some rawness at the edges.

But who else to sing this splendid batch of songs?

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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