Country legend Merle Haggard passed away Wednesday, April 6 in Palo Cedro, California. Haggard recorded more than three dozen #1 hits over the past six decades; he will be remembered fondly by the music industry.
Simple, American, working-man pride. That's the organizing theme of Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard, which features a generous 26-song track list spanning nearly 40 years. Released in 2006, the compilation features all of Merle's biggest hits, including: "Mama Tried," "Bottle Let Me Down," "Sing Me Back Home," and "Okie from Muskogee." As an introduction to Haggard's music-- or even to the Bakersfield sound that he helped popularize-- Hag may be unparalleled.
The New York Times said it best: "He had an immense influence on other performers — not just other country singers but also ’60s rock bands like the Byrds and the Grateful Dead, as well as acts like Elvis Costello and the Mekons, all of whom recorded Mr. Haggard’s songs. Some 400 artists have released versions of his 1968 hit “Today I Started Loving You Again.”
Eric Church is the opposite of modern-day country music, yet he still gets played on modern-day country radio. His debut album, titled Sinners Like Me, was released in 2006 -- the same year that he was kicked off Rascal Flatts' tour only to be replaced by a not-yet-famous Taylor Swift. Here, Church raises a glass to Merle with his song "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag."
Merle had plenty of friends in the music world, Willie Nelson being one of the closest. The two recorded and released a collaborative album together just last year; Nelson and Haggard cover each other's classics, rib each other about the girls they've loved before, and wrap it all up with the gentle mutual-admiration fest "The Only Man Wilder Than Me."
From first to last on the tracks—whether singing together, as on that one, or individually, interpreting excellent but less-covered songs by each other (Merle Haggard on Nelson’s “Family Bible,” Willie Nelson on Haggard’s “Somewhere Between”)—there is a profound sense of the men’s ease with each other and each other’s creations. Yet there’s equally impressive evidence that both singers have stepped up their vocal game in the presence of the other. Django and Jimmie was one of the strongest, most engaging country albums of 2015.