R.I.P., Merle Haggard

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800px-MerleHaggardJun09Merle Haggard, who died this week on his 79th birthday, was one of the most important singers, songwriters, and performers in the history of country music. He mattered as much to that genre as, say, Ellington did to jazz or Sinatra did to pop.

If you think those are overstatements, perhaps you’ll change your mind after spending a little time with the four-disc, career-spanning Down Every Road, which collects such classics as “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “I Started Loving You Again,” “Mama Tried,” “I Can’t Hold Myself in Line,” “Irma Jackson,” “If We Make It Through December,” “Hungry Eyes,” “I Can’t Be Myself,” and “Big City.” After you savor that album, check out Tulare Dust: A Songwriters’ Tribute to Merle Haggard, which features versions of his songs by artists like Lucinda Williams, Iris Dement, Dwight Yoakum, and Marshall Crenshaw.

Haggard was the real deal: nobody quite sang like him or wrote like him, and nobody’s going to replace him. Fortunately, he left us with a lot of music.

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