After 11 years with Capitol Records, Merle Haggard departed the label for MCA in 1977, kicking off a five-year stint that is by most measures the most turbulent in the singer/songwriter's career. Capitol wasn't the only longtime relationship he left behind as he faced 40. He left Bonnie Owens for Leona Williams, who soon replaced Bonnie as his wife and duet partner. He tentatively began recording in Nashville, where he was convinced to leave behind his road-tested Strangers in favor of studio pros. He suffered a bit of a dry spell as a songwriter, leading him to record beloved covers and questionable new tunes alike. All these ups and downs are evident on 2012's The Troubadour, Bear Family's fourth Merle Haggard box, which chronicles the entirety of those MCA recordings over the course of 111 tracks. Haggard closed his run at MCA in a stronger position than he started and the music here is pretty much the working definition of a transitional period. Hag tries on different sounds and recording styles, rushing out a heartfelt tribute to a departed Elvis Presley, then agreeing to attempt to cash in on the CB radio craze way after the "Convoy" had passed, happily recording a duet with Clint Eastwood for Bronco Billy, grudgingly cutting "If We're Not Back in Love by Monday" -- a plain ripoff of his own "If We Make It Through December" -- but throwing himself into Jimmy Bowen's meticulous production for Serving 190 Proof, where he'd cut no more than one track a day. Serving 190 Proof wound up as one of Haggard's great albums and it's hardly the only highlight from these years. That Elvis Presley tribute is surprising and soulful, Back to the Barrooms is an excellent hard country record, and he wrapped up his time with the rollicking live album Rainbow Stew: Live at Anaheim Stadium. Along the way, he cut a few songs that qualify as Haggard classics -- the gorgeously heartbroken "Misery and Gin" and its defiant counterpart "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," the moody "I'm Always on the Mountain When I Fall" -- a bunch of strong straight-ahead country, some beautiful neglected gems like the unreleased song that lends its title to this box, a pretty good collection of spiritual tunes dedicated to his mom, plus some flotsam that's interesting as cultural artifacts (that CB single "The Bull and the Beaver"/"I'm Getting High," music for the botched 1981 blockbuster The Legend of the Lone Ranger). By any measure this box is a mixed bag, but it's a fascinating one because it tells a story: at the beginning Merle seems lost but by the time it wraps up, Haggard has regained his voice and authority, weathering his midlife crisis and becoming stronger once again.