Merle Haggard

If I Could Only Fly – 2000 (Anti-/Epitaph)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

Merle Haggard has never been one to run from his past, though on his latest release he takes what is perhaps the most introspective writing approach in his legendary career.

Haggard has fictionalized his prison days with such classics as "Mama Tried," "Branded Man," and "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive." With "I'm Still Your Daddy" Haggard gently tells his child of his mistakes ("I knew someday you'd find out about San Quentin/And your heart would break and your faith would go away"), while he asks for understanding ("Don't put me down/Don't push me away/ Daddy needs some family love today").

In the opening track "Wishing All the Old Things Were New" Haggard admits that the craving for drugs is still present ("Watching while some old friends do a line/Holding back the want to end my own addicted mind"). Contrary to the remorse fellow legend George Jones expressed in his recent tune "Choices," Haggard clearly misses some aspects of his wilder days ("Thinking about the good old days/ Before it all fell through").

When not reflecting on the past Haggard looks optimistically toward the future with "Proud To Be Your Old Man," in which he acknowledges that life with his new wife makes it "fun to get old." In "Leavin's Getting Harder" the singer must balance the desire to stay at home with the awareness that traveling is a necessity for his career. Haggard proves that his vocal skills remain supreme on the ballad "Turn To Me," the Latin influenced "Crazy Moon," and "Lullaby," co-written with wife Theresa.

This confirms that not only is Merle Haggard still one of the most expressive vocalists around, but that his artistry as a songwriter continues to grow as he enters new phases of life.