It seems a lot of artists are jumping on the acoustic bandwagon and putting out Bluegrass albums these days. So it would be real easy for such an album to get lost in the shuffle. Not so when the artist is Merle Haggard. In fact, you have no choice but to listen. Recorded at Ricky Skaggs place in Hendersonville, Tennessee; The Bluegrass Sessions features an all-star lineup:
Marty Stuart - Mandolin
Carl Jackson - Guitar
Rob Ickes - Dobro
Charlie Cushman - Banjo
Aubrey Haynie - Fiddle
Alison Krauss - Voclas on "Mama's Hungry Eyes"
In recent years Haggard has experienced a renaissance and has released some albums that could rank up there with his classics. Too bad the Nashville brass has failed to notice. Unfortunately that is the current reality of mainstream country radio. Legends like Merle Haggard don't get airplay. His songwriting has been served well by the years and lyrically he is writing introspective songs characterized by depth and honesty. For example, on "Learning to Live with Myself" he sings, "I learned to live with my darlin' God took my darlin' away. Down through the years he took all my peers and left me here in the clay ... Til he gives me the call the hardest of all will be learning to live with myself." Or consider the words from "Pray", "Get your eyes off yourself. Think of somebody else. Imagine how hard life could be. Count your blessings again. Kiss the lips of your friend and pray, pray, pray. Not that Haggard leaves the honky tonk behind, as evidenced by "Runaway Momma," but I think this introspective journey is one we will all take before the end of our lives. After all he has come through in his life, it is good to see Haagard look back and realized he enjoyed the journey.
Watch this in Studio video of "Holding Things Together:
This review also appears on: Twangville