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Merle Haggard - I Am What I Am
By: Jim Moulton, CSO Staff Journalist

Merle Haggard's newest CD in five years is a refreshing acoustic affair with a touch of pedal steel and some electric pickin'. I had to fight to get a finished copy, but it was well worth the fight. Haggard is a smart man sticking with what is tried and true. His band, The Strangers, accompany him in his studio, the California "Shade Tree Manor Studio". Reggie Young helps out on guitar, with Rob Ickes on Dobro.

Every song is Hag written except for one. Some of the songs have a swing/jazz feel to them. The whole vibe of the album is very informal. Haggard sounds refreshed in this take. Reggie Young's twangy guitar adds a lot to the mix. In fact the CD is full of great guitar including Haggard. Haggard's wife Theresa writes a very inspired piece in the small insert, plus adding some sweet vocals on the CD. "Live and Love Always" features husband and wife singing together, while Merle talks in the background.

What makes an album great, for me it's great musicians mostly, and that is exactly what we have here. Whether it's Haggard's great vocals or Ickes' Dobro in the background, this is a great album. You won't find a better recording, unless this was put in the SACD format. This is available on CD or vinyl. If you download stuff, you can get it that way too. I just love "How did you Find me Here?", a great bluesy sounding song. Haggard has a great way of putting hooks in his songs and as a producer, he knows where to emphasize what, He really sounds like he is having fun. By the Way, Merle is on a new label, and I Am What I Am is his first record for Vanguard Records.

In closing, this is a great find in today's market, a real icon, playing iconic music. He still has it. I love the artwork, just a simple picture of "The Hag" with his hat. OK, drum roll, my two favorite songs are; the first song, "I've Seen It All Go Away", and the last song which is the title track "I Am What I Am". The opener is a brilliant song about Hag's experience with life, a bit political, about his experience, just a great song. He really gets into it. Sometimes, he sounds a bit like The man in Black. Who better to do it, but Merle Haggard. Enjoy, it turned out to be well worth the wait!

Click the cover to order your copy right now!

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