The legend of Merle Haggard is probably as large as the life of the folk music star. Only Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash have a larger legend than Haggard. The writer of "Okie from Muskogee" is the star of this album, Pretend It's The End of the World by this ensemble led by tenor saxophonist, Bryan Murray. Haggard's music has always been earnest and soulful and like the best contemporary music, was in fact, somewhat ahead of its time. As a musician and instrumentalist, Haggard was also copied and lionized by both the left and right within the politicized spectrum of artists in America. In reality, he touched the heart of grassroots America as much as any artist, except the aforementioned Guthrie, Dylan, Nelson and Cash and perhaps Pete Seeger.
Bryan and the Haggards make a wonderful tribute to this living legend without getting too sentimental and despite the delayed rhythm of the track, "Lonesome Fugitive," which ends up appearing somewhat overdone,the barn-recorded nature of the music comes as close to the Blues as anything that white America might have in relation to the blues of Blind Willie McTell, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Big Bill Broonzy.
Rather than featuring the hits of Haggard, this album focuses on his character and in doing so, brings to light some of his lesser known music. "Silver Wings" and "Swinging Doors" were not as famous as "Okie from Muskogee" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Lucky Star." What does come to pass, however, is the raw and primal nature of Haggard's music. "Working Man's Blues" is superb and resounds with the heat and clang of struggle. The emotion of "All of Me Belongs to You" is taut and quite overwhelming in the best sense of the word, as the song soars well beyond "yonder blue" that musicians of Haggard's ilk liked to reach out to.
Murray is most ably assisted by the arresting tone of Jon Irabagon's alto saxophone, Jon Lundbom's gutbucket guitar, especially on "Silver Wings" as well as the marvelous timekeeping of Matthew "Moppa" Elliott's bass and Danny Fischer's drums. Elliott shines on "All of Me Belongs to You" with his sweeping arco playing and accompanying vocals, which effectively defines the playfulness and raw nature of this album, full of the high and lonesome twang of Merle Haggard's music.
Silver Wings; Swinging Doors; Working Man Blues; Miss the Mississippi and You; Lonesome Fugitive; All of Me Belongs to You; Trouble in Mind.
Bryan Murray; tenor saxophone; Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone; Jon Lundbom: guitar; Matthew "Moppa" Elliott: bass; Danny Fischer: drums.
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