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Like Never Before

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Barnes & Noble - David McGee
Despite its title, Merle Haggard's first album for his own Hag label finds him more like ever before -- cranky, opinionated, outspoken, tender hearted, and up in arms like he hasn't been since the halcyon days of "Okie from Muskogee" and "Fightin' Side of Me." Although the sounds are mellow here -- even when his band is joined by blaring saxes on the title song or robust horn punctuations "Lonesome Day", the feel is subdued and mellow -- exactly the opposite is true of the lyrics. The genial shuffle of "That's the News" is in stark contrast to Hag's screed against the power elite who would pump up phony war triumphs at the expense of the more telling stories of pain and ...
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09/30/2003 CD Fair

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - David McGee
Despite its title, Merle Haggard's first album for his own Hag label finds him more like ever before -- cranky, opinionated, outspoken, tender hearted, and up in arms like he hasn't been since the halcyon days of "Okie from Muskogee" and "Fightin' Side of Me." Although the sounds are mellow here -- even when his band is joined by blaring saxes on the title song or robust horn punctuations "Lonesome Day", the feel is subdued and mellow -- exactly the opposite is true of the lyrics. The genial shuffle of "That's the News" is in stark contrast to Hag's screed against the power elite who would pump up phony war triumphs at the expense of the more telling stories of pain and suffering on the home front. Another shuffle, this one in a more pronounced western swing mode, fuels the treatise of "Lonesome Day," an unflinching shot at Ashcroft's America. When Hag queries, "Who's gonna sing the song of freedom/when freedom goes away," all the buoyant horn bursts and jubilant twin fiddle lines in the world -- not even that sly, Bob Wills "a-ha!" at the end -- can dull the edge of a pointed message about the abrogation of civil liberties. In this context, even a cover of Woody Guthrie's "Reno Blues Philadelphia Lawyer," with Willie Nelson adding a rustic second voice, sounds a good riddance to the Hollywood gal who removed one more barrister from the City of Brotherly Love by marrying and relocating him. Ah, but there's vintage romantic Merle in the lilting, traditional country love song, "Because of Your Eyes," and the honky-tonk balladeer emerges in full flower on the bluesy tearjerker, "The Downside." In his dotage, Hag may have tempered the musical attack, but the fightin' side of him is still plenty riled up.
All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Much was made of Merle Haggard's "That's the News," a scathing indictment of media culture and the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. A simple country song, it's the kind of thing Haggard had been writing throughout his entire career in his celebration of core American values. And because he's critical of the American government, listeners should not make the mistake that Haggard suddenly became a pacifist or sympathetic to the American left. "Are the Good Times Really Over for Good" trod some similar ground and argued against--what he perceived to be--a welfare state and has made repated public statements about closing our borders. Also, given the rest of the album, another brick in the foundation of Haggard's artistic and popular renaissance, it should not overshadow the rest of these songs. They are all solid, even brilliant efforts by Haggard and are rooted deeply in Bakersfield honky tonk "Haggard Like I've Never Been Before," Western swing "Garbage Man" and "Lonesome Day", the bluesy roots of "Reno Blues," a duet with Willie Nelson, the innovative, jazzy balladry of "Because of Your Eyes" with gorgeous guitar playing from Hag, and "I Hate to See It Go." This is mostly a laid-back affair for Haggard, but it is meticulously crafted and arranged, full of beautiful charts and striking vocal and instrumental performances. The album's final track, "Return to San Francisco," is a country song meeting the jazzier side of Bob Wills' ghost with a mariachi horn section in the bridge for good measure. Haggard hears many different kinds of music in his head; thankfully, for everyone else, he effortlessly gets it down on tape time and time again.
Entertainment Weekly - Ken Tucker
Do not mistake this deceptively jaunty, brief... album as minor Haggard. (A-)

Do not mistake this deceptively jaunty, brief... album as minor Haggard. (A-)
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 9/30/2003
  • Label: Compendia
  • UPC: 678234000525
  • Catalog Number: 5

Album Credits

Performance Credits
Merle Haggard Primary Artist, Guitar, Rhythm Guitar
Willie Nelson Guitar, Vocals
Mike Martin Harmonica
Norm Hamlet Steel Guitar
Scott Joss Acoustic Guitar, Fiddle, Vocals
Andy Kaulkin Piano
Red Lane Acoustic Guitar
Kenny Malone Drums
Don Markham Trumpet, Saxophone
Clint Strong Guitar
Norman Stevens Guitar, Rhythm Guitar
Doug Colosio Keyboards
Theresa Lane Haggard Vocals
Kevin "Cab" Williams Bass
Jeff "Big Guy" Ingraham Drums
Technical Credits
Merle Haggard Arranger, Composer, Producer, Liner Notes
Lou Bradley Arranger, Producer, Engineer
Norman Seeff Art Direction
Hollis Flatt Mastering
Doug Colosio Composer
Spencer Secoy Mastering
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