RETURNS APRIL 20
WITH NEW CD ‘I AM WHAT I AM’
DEBUT DISC FOR VANGUARD RECORDS
MERLE HAGGARD returns on April 20 with his new CD I AM WHAT I AM, his first disc for Vanguard Records, and an inspired effort from a rejuvenated legend. Co-produced by MERLE with longtime cohort Lou Bradley, the disc features 12 songs including the candid title track, with typically stellar playing from MERLE’s band the Strangers.
MERLE turns inward on his new disc, and the result isn’t some great claim to Truth, but a concession to the album title’s simple truth. If the songs here are occasionally tinged with regret, I AM WHAT I AM is no place for apologies – indeed, the tone of these tracks is celebratory as often as not, the reflection of a man profoundly comfortable in his weathered skin.
Don Markham’s understated trumpet lends both vibrancy to pensive tracks and restraint to rowdier cuts, and Doug Colosio’s piano offers a reference point to MERLE’s Western swing roots (notably on “Pretty When It’s New” and “The Road To My Heart”). I AM WHAT I AM is anchored by MERLE’s band The Strangers – which, in addition to Markham and Colosio, includes drummer Biff Adam, Norm Hamlet on steel guitar, Scott Joss on fiddle and guitar, and Kevin Williams on bass with lead guitars from Tim Howard and MERLE’s son Ben Haggard – while a short list of guest musicians (including Bob Dylan drummer George Receli) sound right at home with the band in the comfortable confines of MERLE’s Shade Tree Manor studio in Northern California.
It’s a prime canvas for the artist’s work, and MERLE doesn’t disappoint. Every song is imbued with the near alchemical power of his dazzling vocal performances, and MERLE’s interpretive mastery and unmatched phrasing continues to bring on impressive measures of sensitivity, candor and authority.
I AM WHAT I AM is a typically far-reaching set, but remains centered around a series of contemplations on love, in all of its intoxicating and vexing forms. Examining romance with a poet’s beatific vulnerability, MERLE travels from the ardent bloom of romance to the intricate ensemble of family life to the burnt out confusion of fading passion, yet always returns to love’s eternally redemptive power. On tracks like “Pretty When It’s New,” a study of new love’s marvelous voltage, and “How Did You Find Me Here” which convincingly takes him from morbid depression to elated joy, MERLE sounds almost reborn, intensely involved and consumed with a sheer sense of wonder that’s enhanced further by those characteristically masterful vocals.
Elsewhere, MERLE lets loose on a duet with his wife Theresa on the rollicking “Live And Love Always,” revisits his childhood on “Oil Tanker Train,” and finds the contentment of home sweet home on “Down At The End Of The Road.” MERLE’s often closely guarded innocence is completely exposed, showing a tenderness that, considering the counterpoint of his battle-scarred, hardened exterior, creates a remarkably resonant experience.
The track listing for I AM WHAT I AM is as follows:
- I’ve Seen It Go Away
- Pretty When It’s New
- Oil Tanker Train
- Live And Love Always
- The Road To My Heart
- How Did You Find Me Here
- We’re Falling In Love Again
- Bad Actor
- Down At The End Of The Road
- Stranger In The City
- Mexican Bands
- I Am What I Am
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