Merle Haggard: 30 Essential Songs

From the defiance of "The Fightin' Side of Me" to the melancholy of "If We Make It Through December"

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"No Time to Cry" (1996)

Buried on one Haggard's lesser-known albums 1996 (the follow-up to 1994) was one of his most heartbreaking performances, a cover of Iris DeMent's ballad about coping with the loss of a parent and getting older. Haggard met directly with DeMent to learn the song. Nicholas Dawidoff's In the Country of Country detailed the session, in which Haggard gave a window into his hard-won process of masterfully interpreting songs: "I'm trying to decide how to sing this," he said. "It's not really sorrow. It's a kind of emptiness that comes on when you know the dearly departed are really gone. It's real hard to describe it without being morbid or unpleasing. Some songs, great songs, you can't bear to hear them because they make you cry." P.D.

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