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From the Country Standard Time Archives

The Hag still delivers

Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, Mass., April 18, 1999

By Stuart Munro

LOWELL, MA - The latest edition of Merle Haggard's roadshow is dubbed "The Working Man's Tour," and while that epithet is obviously intended to appeal to his audience, it is also apparently applicable to Haggard himself, since by his own account, he tours these days out of necessity.

Of course, that's not the only reason why he's on the road, and it certainly doesn't mean that he's mailing his performances in, as Sunday night's show attested.

To be sure, his show includes certain invariables. He's still starting things off with "Working Man's Blues" and wrapping up with "Okie From Muskogee" (played for laughs this time around).

Naturally, he serves up a broad sampling of hits and familiars - on this night, "Mama Tried," "I Take A Lot of Pride in What I Am," "That's the Way Love Goes," and "Big City" among them.

He still brings members of his backing band, The Strangers up to sing a few - as usual, Bonnie Owens, and this time around, his acoustic guitarist, Freddie Powers.

But along with these staples, Haggard still throws a few curves. Sunday, he gave us a swinging version of Jimmie Rodgers' "T.B. Blues" that featured 30-year Strangers alumnus Norm Hamlet plying a sweet dobro.

He visited another of his heroes as well. With Powers singing lead on the Bob Wills standard "Time Changes Everything," the Hag had the chance to pull out his fiddle and throw out some Wills-like vocalisms and band directions.

And he ranged through the lesser-known - "Footlights," from 1979's *Serving 190 Proof* - and the rarely-performed - a top-notch rendition of "Silver Wings."

Although the show had its uneven moments - do we really need any more pot jokes, not to mention a weak novelty song, courtesy of an unnamed songwriter, titled "Marijuana?" - and the crowds seem to be waning, a Merle Haggard show continues to be worthwhile not simply because of what he's done, but for what he's still doing.