.
http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/29ea65dcf690ae63b53f768aae82045f92a2ad50.jpg The Original Outlaw

Merle Haggard

The Original Outlaw

Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 4.5 0
December 13, 2007

Merle Haggard's toughest song may be his 1968 country hit "I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am." Despite the title, it's not about a working man — he sings in the voice of a hobo loner, drifting from place to place. "I keep thumbin' through the phone books/Lookin' for my daddy's name in every town," Hag sings — the way he picks up that line, cuts himself deep on it and sets it back down is the essence of his hard-boiled vocal genius. This could be the guy Bob Dylan sang about in "Tangled Up in Blue," except he doesn't even have a redheaded woman in his past — just empty roads. It's the song they played at the funeral of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant, and you can still hear why.

Haggard's work is spread around more than a few labels, but The Original Outlaw is the most comprehensive Haggard compilation yet. The three CDs range from his hell-raising Sixties days ("Mama Tried," "Sing Me Back Home") through his Eighties tomfoolery ("I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink") up to his 2005 anti-Bush protest, "America First." It unerringly plucks the best of his later hits — "I'm Always on a Mountain When I Fall," "Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room." Any Hag fanatic can note missing faves ("Living With the Shades Pulled Down"), but the sheer range here is amazing.

Hag's Bakersfield country dust is still a revelatory sound: sweet acoustic guitar up top, mean drums below. His songs are full of God's lonely men: crooks, fugitives, bar-brawling drunks, death-row convicts requesting one last song on their way to the electric chair. He doesn't sing as much about husbands — no great country singer has ever had less interest in his own love life, mainly because his only true love is the road. Hag knows it will never love him back — you can hear that in his voice from the beginning, the way he feels the cold wind hit him in "Branded Man." But on The Original Outlaw, it's a lifelong passion.

prev
Album Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Santa Monica”

    Everclear | 1996

    After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com