Singing along with Merle Haggard

In honor of a pair of local concerts Merle Haggard is set to perform the week after this, our paper ran an article and an interview with Haggard, a country music classic.  Unfortunately, I’m busy both nights he’ll be in town, so I thought I’d post an article and a couple of songs for my pleasure and hopefully yours.

Merle Haggard was born in 1937, in Oildale, CA, near Bakersfield.  He grew up wild and drew a three year term in San Quentin when he was 20.  While in prison, he decided playing music would be a better way to live, and 1967 he recorded his first number one country music song, “The Fugitive,” which remains my all time Haggard favorite:

I first heard Haggard after he released his 1969 counter-counter-cultural anthem, “Okie from Muskogee.”  Lyrics like, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” made it a tongue-in-cheek favorite on hippie radio stations of the day.  Later that year, the Grateful Dead covered one of his songs, as did Joan Baez a short while later.

Haggard, who had his own battles with alcohol and drug abuse, is far less doctrinaire these days:  he built a recording studio near his home in Redding, CA where he’s currently working on a tribute album to Bob Dylan.  At 76, having also survived lung cancer, Haggard sounds grateful as well as surprised at his success and still being alive.  If you like country music, you’re sure to enjoy the article and the interview.

Haggard says country music is “pretty shallow” these days, and when you listen to his work, it’s hard not to come to the same conclusion.  Here is a country singer who shows the depths and soul that are possible in this classic American genre.

Kacey Musgraves: a talented singer makes her recording debut

In my twenties, when I spent a lot of time in Oregon and the southwest, I came to love country music.  I enjoyed the roots of the genre as you hear it in artists like Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and The Carter Family.  I also favored contemporaries of the time like Emmy Lou Harris and Johnny Cash.

I haven’t listened so much since the genre tilted toward glamour and glitz.  That’s one reason I was delighted to hear a fresh young artist introduced on NPR.  Twenty-four year old Kacey Musgraves writes and sings with the heart and authenticity of her country ancestors, even as her songs are squarely 21st century.  Her debut album, “Same Trailer, Different Park,” comes out on March 19.  You can sample the songs on the NPR page,  First listen: Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgrave. Photo by Dave Hensley. CC By-NC-ND 2.0

Kacey grew up in Mineola, Texas.  In the words of NPR, she writes “about and for people who’ve learned to fit their dreams into recession-sized moving boxes; who gain comfort from their family traditions…who find their pleasures and pains not in the excesses promoted by Hollywood or Nashvegas, but in jokes shared during a work break at the Waffle House, or nights of glory at the local karaoke bar.”

Available youTube clips don’t have the acoustic quality I expect to hear after the album release, but I was taken by the optimism that underlies the poignancy in “Silver Linings:”

Woke up on the wrong side of rock bottom
Throw a lot of pennies in a well
That done run dry
Light up and smoke ’em if you have ’em
But you just ain’t got ’em
Yeah ain’t we always looking For a bluer sky?

I’m planning to visit iTunes for this on March 19.