In Scotty McCreery’s upcoming book Go Big or Go Home, the singer makes multiple mentions of his love for more traditional country music — a statement anyone who watched him compete on American Idol should be able to verify. On April 12th, he showed that appreciation with an energetic cover of the late Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” on the Grand Ole Opry.
With his guitar players mimicking the song’s signature intertwining lead and rhythm parts, McCreery dips into his resonant baritone to retell the story. Though it’s a tall order to picture the mild-mannered kid behind bars, he commits himself to the performance and allows his voice to fray and show its rougher edges at just the right places.
“God bless Mr. Merle Haggard, y’all!” he says at the song’s conclusion. An all-star cast of performers also sang the song at the conclusion of the 6th annual All 4 the Hall concert happening across town on the same evening.
McCreery’s own recorded output has steered closer to the existing trends on country radio than staid traditionalism, with the innocent “See You Tonight” succeeding on the strength of its big hook and most recent release “Southern Belle” stalling outside the top 40.
“This is probably about as far left as we’ll go,” he told Rolling Stone Country after the song was released in 2015. Presently, McCreery is working on his third full-length album and looking for a label home to release it.