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Merle Haggard

Roots Volume 1 – 2001 (Anti-/Epitaph)

Reviewed by Sophie Best

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CDs by Merle Haggard

A love letter to the defining influences of Merle Haggard's youth, this album features half a dozen Lefty Frizzell standards, two Hank covers apiece (Thompson and Williams, that is), and three well-placed Hag originals. The intended effect is clearly to replicate the feel of a Texan jukebox in the early '50's, and the warm, open sound of the recordings conveys a great sense of fun.

Haggard shares some spirited picking with Frizzell's original guitarist, Norman Stephens, who also did a stint with Hank Thompson. Another former Frizzell accompanist, Abe Manuel Jr, contributes some rollicking fiddle and mandolin, and Haggard's pianist Doug Colosio sounds as though he's enjoying himself immensely. Haggard doesn't. Go overboard with the Frizzell vocal phrasings, and one suspects his voice may not bend to them so readily these days, but the audible joy he clearly takes in his childhood favorites more than makes up for any creaks in the ol' vocal chords.

The sincerity and affection in the performances go way beyond empty tributeering, and that's what makes this an instantly lovable record.