Merle Haggard : If I Could Only Fly

Uncompromising stuff from a battered stand-up guy.

Trust Johnny Cash to fuck with the system. Up until the time the old goat took him the notion to record the American series, the highway to country immortality was scattered with the corpses of wannabe Hank Williams outlaws who lived fast, died young and made the man a posthumous buck.

But once ol’ JC reversed from the light and hunkered down to hew himself a new reputation as a hard-bitten survivor, he threw open the door to the bluesman option – long sufferin’, still hurtin’, still [I]here[/I] – and, look, welcome his buddies, the raddled old dawgs.

First to the bar is Merle Haggard. The Hag. This is a man made for redemption. Imprisoned in San Quentin during his younger days for a botched robbery, he fashioned some jailhouse hooch from peelings and found himself thrown in the hole. Freed to the world, he has written some of the greatest regret songs, penned ‘Okie From Muskogee’ to piss off anti-war hippy faggots, and done enough living on the fightin’ side to deserve a new liver. His tab’s been picked up by Epitaph, through their Anti-imprint, and the Hag don’t let ’em down.

‘Wishing All These Old Things Were New’ sets the tone. Sure guitar, wavering growl, temptations tempered by age. “Watching while some old friends do a line” is how the album starts. “Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind”.

The key throughout is honesty. Whether he’s explaining his sinful past or admitting how bareback ain’t for him no more, this honky-tonking is cut with equal measures of the sentimental and the ornery.

Uncompromising stuff from a battered stand-up guy. Now then, Dr Dre, there’s this old dude called George Jones who can sing the stars from the sky…

Steve Sutherland