The thing that makes Bear Family's Untamed Hawk a little difficult to listen to for pleasure is the very reason it's necessary for serious Merle Haggard fans and collectors: Over the course of five discs, it contains all of the Capitol recordings (plus his early work for Talley) between 1962 and 1968, including alternate takes and unreleased cuts. This is a bonanza, since from the outset, Haggard was one of the most reliable of all country singers, turning out consistently enjoyable work due to his terrific ear for material and excellent songwriting and performances. He certainly did record a few duds, or at least unrealized tracks, during this time, but those are fascinating in context (either on the original albums or in this box set). Yet the consistency is rather remarkable; the singles are usually the standouts, but there are many tracks nearly as compelling as well. This is all apparent on the original albums as well as Untamed Hawk, but the box set may not be the best way to hear this music, largely because of the sequencing. Like many Bear Family boxes (or at least their sets from the '80s through the mid-'90s), this places chronological order before listenability, as it presents everything in session order -- which means that the alternate takes and false starts slow the momentum of the sessions. This is a problem, but it is one that can be avoided through judicious use of CD programming (or at least the fast-forward button), but it does also point out that this set is more for the historian than the casual listener. That said, those listeners who want a complete set of Merle Haggard's groundbreaking '60s recordings will certainly not be disappointed with this, particularly because many of these songs are not easily available on CD, even with the straight-up reissues of his '60s albums. And, frankly, if you love Merle Haggard, it is worth investing in this set. His music may have grown richer in the years after this set, but even at the outset, he was one of the most inventive, interesting, enjoyable, and flat-out wonderful country artists of his time, and it's all worth hearing, from the singles to the album tracks to the cuts that never were aired before this set. Even if not everything here is perfect, the overall effect is pretty awe-inspiring all the same.