The CDs were issued on his own label because, Haggard notes, the parameters of the record industry have narrowed over the years.
"We intend to do some things on Hag Records that don't fit with the commercial mainstream, such as gospel, and maybe comedy, things that you don't call commercial. It used to be, you know, you could express your feelings about religion on a commercial album. You might have something to indicate your beliefs or whatever, but now things are so strictly categorized you've got to be in the right corner of the store, and you've got to have it played on a station that programs only that kind of music that you've got to have everything in its proper place or they won't even consider it."
"We've got really a lot of product out there," he concludes with a chuckle, "and we're just trying to let people know that they all are current within the last 24 months or so. We're proud of them, but we may have too many things on the market."
Yet though he's been forced to find new channels through which to reach his audience, and though he's disheartened at the state of country radio these days "you know, the only thing that I hear once in a while that I slightly like is the Dixie Chicks," he laughs, "and then you have a bunch of them that all sound alike" Haggard shies away from bringing that viewpoint into his music.
"I've got a song laying here in front of me that George Jones wants me to record with him, the day after tomorrow," Haggard says. "It's called "Still Got Songs To Sing," and it says this is supposed to be me singing 'he was here before Elvis, he survived the Beatles and the disco craze, and he lived through the Urban Cowboy, but this one's gonna put us in the grave.' Well, I don't want to record that. I'm not really bitching about anything, and I'm going to talk to George about it and get him to do something else. I don't think George needs to be bitching with a great voice like that. He just needs to sing."
In the end, it seems that's what Merle Haggard needs to do as well. The grueling pace of touring he's undertaken is uncharacteristic of a man of his age and accomplishments given his musical stature, The Hag should be playing in the most prestigious and comfortable venues in the country, rather than the roadhouses, casinos and auditoriums that make up the list of his showdates but Merle Haggard's creative drive seems as forceful as ever.
And if the lined, careworn face that gazes out from the cover of "If I Could Only Fly" reflects a life that's had more than its share of ups and downs, it's also one that reflects an unflagging fidelity to the belief that a simple song, sung with skill and conviction, has the power to affect our lives.
"That old fishing pole looks better everyday," he sings on "Leavin's Getting Harder," but it's not quite time to pick it up and leave the rest behind. Merle Haggard still has some things to say.