Merle Haggard: Working in Tennessee

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Merle Haggard
Working in Tennessee
(Vanguard Records)

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Merle Haggard’s Working in Tennessee opens with the jaunty title tune, which is one of two swipes he takes against Nashville on the record.  He then moves into the cover “Cocaine Blues,” this version seeing some great pickers behind Haggard.  Later is “What I Hate,” a perfect Haggard song with his too-honest vocals right-up there in your face.

“Under the Bridge” is another one of those all too true lyrics that you nearly have to shut the song off.  There’s such a nice, easy chorus though, that you almost forget what ol’ Merle’s singing about. This one features some great piano and electric guitar playing from Haggard’s usual players, his long-time band The Strangers. The band wails on “Too Much Boogie Woogie,” the second and more pointed attack at Music City, stating whom it should be playing more of. Name dropping Willie Nelson on “Woogie” it’s of no surprise that legendary Willie himself joins Haggard (along with Haggard’s son Ben) on the infamous, chunking “Workin’ Man Blues.”

“Laugh It Off” is just pure lyric fun and straight ahead country, while the Johnny Cash/June Carter movin’ almost-too-fast-for-its-own-good “Jackson,” a tune Haggard sings with his wife Theresa, is a nice ender to the album.

Diagnosed with lung cancer and having had his lung removed in 2008, Haggard is still very optimistic these days as he says: “I’m swinging back in full throttle right now. Music keeps me alive. It makes me breathe better.”

Sounds like he is breathing damn well on Working in Tennessee.

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