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Here we have yet another splendid 2-for-1 album from BGO. Merle Haggard has to be in the running as the greatest country music act of all-time, and not just the fifty years. Yes, it is almost that long, because he first charted in December 1963. Though Merle no longer troubling the charts he is still making first-class albums. As in his most recent release, Working In Tennessee (Vanguard) Merle’s standard of work is still up with the best. At the time, 1980-81 of the releases here he had only just cut his ties with MCA and was charting big-time (solo and soon after via duets with Willie Nelson and George Jones). Two songs from Big City, the title track and ‘My Favorite Memory’ both topped the singles charts and he all but did it with the reflective ace ‘Are The Good Times Really Over (I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver’. A song typical of Merle, it laments the passing of an era, that of the train is another he is most partial to. 

Two songs on the record are covers, Leona Williams’ ‘Texas Fiddle Song’ that owes much of it’s melody to ‘Old Joe Clark’ and ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ as fiddle, piano, bass and lead guitar help out Merle plus, there is golden oldie (Waylon Jennings, Johnny & Jack, Susan Raye and Donny King all charted with it) ‘Stop The World And Let Me Off’ that enjoys horns. One of the most interesting tracks is Merle’s co-write with Freddy Powers, ‘I Always Get Lucky With You’ that two years late saw George Jones top the American country singles with it. A nice enough song but it tends to drag along —more in keeping with his jazz come swing influences. Only there isn't much of a swing to it. 


‘Going Where  The Lonely Go’ starts off in sombre mood as he speaks of rolling with the flow on the chart-topping title track and drinking on ‘Why Am I Drinkin’. Not the most inspiring fare, but the songs mirrored Merle’s personal life and his state of mind of the time. Among my favourites you have ‘Shopping For Dresses’ and his versions of Willie Nelson's ‘Half A Man’ and Jimmie Davis’ ‘Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine’ to go with easily his best vocal performance ‘For All I Know’. For this is classic Haggard song, the vocal intonations and gentle swing make it irresistible.  

All in all the collection is a couple of notches above average (for him) but below vintage Haggard despite some excellent tracks on Big City. For apart those noted you also have railroad song ‘Good Old American Guest’ (that features Tiny Moore on electric mandolin, Mark Yeary, piano and Leona Williams on harmony vocals) and the likewise, entertaining ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like Forever’. Classic Haggard!   


                                                     Maurice Hope


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March 2018

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