368

Merle Haggard: Unforgettable

Roger Crane By

Sign in to view read count
Merle Haggard: Unforgettable Merle Haggard is, as the great Duke Ellington used to say, "beyond category." Like the best, he is a genre-defying artist. There is a strong influence of both jazz and blues in Haggard's work, though it's usually labeled as country and western. For example, he phrases like a jazz singer and he features horns in his exceptional band, The Strangers—and, unlike almost all other country singers, he actually gives the band a chorus. Perhaps most importantly, he and the band swing. Like full-fledged jazz singers, Haggard phrases with the assurance of a singer who knows where the pulse is all the time.

Only now, however, as he approaches 68, has he decided to record a full set of standards from the Great American Songbook. Whereas jazz singers often search these old songs for a phrase or a melody they can elaborate and transform, Haggard lets the song do all the work; all he has to do is use his expressive voice to bring out the bruised tenderness present in most old songs, including "Stardust." In addition, he includes "As Time Goes By," and "I Can't Get Started," which are often selected by jazz-oriented singers. Haggard also swings gently through "Pennies From Heaven" (graced by Clint Strong's superb country-jazz guitar) and he brings new life to "Cry Me A River," exhibiting a world-weariness light years from Julie London's sultry original version. Haggard is not, of course, the first country artist to make this leap into standards. Willie Nelson, another C&W artist (and jazz fan), noted for his jazz phrasing, came out with his classic Stardust LP back in 1978; more recently, in 1998, country artist Lorrie Morgan, with her husky jazz timbre, released a CD titled Secret Love.

Unforgettable contains no surprises. Haggard is not stretching any envelopes, but this recording is filled with low-key piano-driven arrangements suited for a late-night smoky bar. Haggard's smooth and effortless voice, uncomplicated phrasing, and warm timbre give the lyrics a clear-headed beauty that is the hallmark of a performer with few pretensions. There are more technically gifted singers than Haggard, of course, but he does something that a lot of those technical singers cannot do, which is convey a helluva lot of truth and emotion. The key to anything touched by Haggard is honesty—whether he's explaining his sinful past in one of his own drinking and cheating songs, or breathing life into an old standard like "I'll Get By."


Track Listing: 1. As Time Goes By; 2. Gypsy; 3. Unforgettable; 4. Stardust; 5. I Can't Get Started; 6. Still Missing You; 7. Pennies from Heaven; 8. Cry Me a River; 9. I'll Get By; 10. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You ; 11. What Love Can Do; 12. Goin' Away Party.

Personnel: Joe Manuel: electric and acoustic guitar; Freddy Powers: drums, acoustic guitar; Kevin Price: cello; Joe Reed: bass; Clint Strong: electric guitar; Catherine Styron: piano; Redd Volkaert, acoustic guitar; Tony Savage: conductor, string arrangements; Terry Domingue, drums; Rose Katai, violin; Soo Kyong Kim, viola; Don Markum: saxophone, trumpet; Bruce McBeth, violin; B.B. Morse, bass; Bobby Wood, piano; Biff Adam, drums; Gary Church: trombone; Merle Haggard: electric guitar and vocals; other personnel.

Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Capitol Records | Style: Vocal


Shop

More Articles

Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read The Invariant CD/LP/Track Review The Invariant
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read Akua's Dance CD/LP/Track Review Akua's Dance
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Daylight Ghosts CD/LP/Track Review Daylight Ghosts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "A Secret Sigh" CD/LP/Track Review A Secret Sigh
by Mark Sullivan
Published: November 21, 2016
Read "In Denmark 1959-1960" CD/LP/Track Review In Denmark 1959-1960
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: June 18, 2016
Read "Jazz Jukebox" CD/LP/Track Review Jazz Jukebox
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: November 24, 2016
Read "She Sleeps, She Sleeps" CD/LP/Track Review She Sleeps, She Sleeps
by John Eyles
Published: March 15, 2016
Read "Factory Girl" CD/LP/Track Review Factory Girl
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: May 22, 2016
Read "Michael Gamble and The Rhythm Serenaders" CD/LP/Track Review Michael Gamble and The Rhythm Serenaders
by Mark Sullivan
Published: August 19, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!