Strangers/Swinging Doors and the Bottle Let Me Down

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - David McGee
After a stretch in San Quentin and in the wake of his first success as a solo artist for the independent Tally label, Merle Haggard signed with Capitol Records. Released in 1965 -- and reissued in this twofer in 2006 as part of an ambitious repackaging of Haggard's Capitol legacy -- Strangers brought him to a nationwide audience and marked the onset of one of the most important careers in country music history. At this early juncture of his career, Hag was crafting a sound that was leaner and tougher than Nashville's countrypolitan fare, marked by Roy Nichols's tart Telecaster punctuations, but was also more sedate than the fiery Bakersfield sound Buck Owens had already ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - David McGee
After a stretch in San Quentin and in the wake of his first success as a solo artist for the independent Tally label, Merle Haggard signed with Capitol Records. Released in 1965 -- and reissued in this twofer in 2006 as part of an ambitious repackaging of Haggard's Capitol legacy -- Strangers brought him to a nationwide audience and marked the onset of one of the most important careers in country music history. At this early juncture of his career, Hag was crafting a sound that was leaner and tougher than Nashville's countrypolitan fare, marked by Roy Nichols's tart Telecaster punctuations, but was also more sedate than the fiery Bakersfield sound Buck Owens had already perfected. In fact, these early recordings reveal a strong Marty Robbins strain in Hag's music, expressed both in his clear, plaintive tenor voice -- check out his pop-style crooning on the string-drenched ballad "Falling for You" and the hint of Robbins's "Mr. Teardrop" emoting in the tear-jerking, twin fiddle-rich ballad "I'd Trade All of My Tomorrows" -- and in some aching, lush arrangements (notably on an early hit, the enduring "Sing a Sad Song") that wouldn't have been out of place on a Robbins record. Still, the title tracks of Merle's second album (from 1966), "Swinging Doors" and "The Bottle Let Me Down," suggest, in their deft lyrics and hard western swing, the man Merle would become in the years ahead as he brought more attitude to his original songs and made sure the music matched his mood. Case in point: the alternate take of "The Fugitive" on Strangers. Retitled "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," this song would become the title of Merle's third album, released in 1967, and more important, his first No. 1 country single. The hit version was pared down, bleak and barren atmospherically, with Merle effectively channeling the soul of a haunted, hunted man, whereas this early rendition is soft and pop-styled, complete with a vocal chorus from the Mitch Miller school and a low, moaning harmonica line that was already a country cliché in 1965. Clearly the latter would not do, and that's part of the scintillating story these reissues reveal.
All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In early 2006, roughly in time for the 40th anniversary of Merle Haggard's debut album, Capitol Nashville launched an ambitious Haggard catalog project, reissuing ten albums as a series of five two-fers, each adorned with bonus tracks. All these albums had been reissued before, either stateside by Capitol or Koch or in the U.K. by EMI or BGO, but they've never have been given such an excellent treatment as they are here. The albums are paired together in logical, chronological order, the 24-bit digital remastering gives these recordings the best sound they've ever had, the front cover artwork is reproduced for each album on a two-fer, and the liner notes are candid and detailed. Dedicated Hag fans certainly have nearly all this material in their collection -- not only have the albums been on CD, but the bonus tracks have by and large appeared on Bear Family's box Untamed Hawk, which chronicled his early work for Capitol, or showed up on Capitol's own box, Down Every Road -- but they still may be tempted by this series, since these discs not only sound and look terrific, but they're also more listenable than any previous CD incarnation of these classic albums. And make no mistake, all ten albums featured in Capitol Nashville's first wave of Haggard reissues in February 2006 are classic albums; some may be a little stronger than others, but there's not a weak one in the bunch, and they all stand as some of the finest music of their time. The first two-fer in the series pairs Merle's first two solo albums, 1965's Strangers and 1966's Swinging Doors and the Bottle Let Me Down a duet album with Bonnie Owens, Just Between the Two of Us, appeared between the two records and is not part of the reissue series. Strangers shows all the hallmarks of being a debut: it's largely comprised of previously released singles and finds Haggard in debt to his influences. It also is heavy on covers, including the singles "My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers," "Sam Hill," and "Sing a Sad Song," the latter two penned by Hag heroes Tommy Collins and Wynn Stewart, respectively. These are only relative weaknesses, though, since the album is a thoroughly entertaining debut, highlighted by Merle's original "I'm Gonna Break Every Heart I Can" and the immortal title track. If Hag was merely finding his voice on Strangers, he comes into his own on Swinging Doors and the Bottle Let Me Down. By this album, he had assembled his backing band, the Strangers, and developed his signature lean, tough Bakersfield sound, epitomized by the two singles in the title of the album. Those are hardly the only bright spots on the album, of course. Not only does this album find Haggard finding his sound as a bandleader, it finds him coming into his own as a songwriter, penning ten of the 12 songs on the album, and while not all of the tunes are quite at the level of the title tracks, such songs as the lazy, heartbroken "No More You and Me," swaggering "Someone Else You've Known," skipping Buck Owens knock-off "The Girl Turn Ripe," barroom ballad "If I Could Be Him," and funny, rollicking "Shade Tree Fix-It Man" illustrate the depth and range of Haggard's writing and suggest the richness of the music that was just around the corner.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 2/21/2006
  • Label: Capitol
  • UPC: 094634480222
  • Catalog Number: 44802
  • Sales rank: 362,902

Album Credits

Performance Credits
Merle Haggard Primary Artist
Technical Credits
Merle Haggard Composer
Casey Anderson Composer
Tommy Collins Composer
Ernest Tubb Composer
Red Simpson Composer
Jenny Carson Composer
Randy LeRoy Remastering
Ralph Mooney Composer
Wynn Stewart Composer
Fuzzy Owen Composer
Liz Anderson Composer
Geoffrey Himes Essay
Chris Clough Reissue Producer
Donna Austin Composer
Howard Kim Reissue Design
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