Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard Stand the Test of Time

Cash: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johnny_Cash_%281964%29.png">Billboard</a>/Wikimedia Commons; Haggard: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Merle_Haggard_in_concert_2013.jpg">Jeremy Luke Roberts</a>/Wikimedia Commons

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Merle Haggard
Okie from Muskogee 45th Anniversary Edition
Capitol Nashville

Johnny Cash
Out Among the Stars
Columbia/Legacy

Merle Haggard album

Great singers sound better with time, regardless of genre, and country icons Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard hold up especially well, which makes these two vault-scouring projects noteworthy. Still, more than four decades on, it’s impossible not to cringe at the small-minded, hippie-baiting sentiments of Haggard’s signature hit, “Okie from Muskogee,” but look past that unfortunate episode and rewards aplenty await on his reissue. (If it helps, Haggard later tried to distance himself from the song and embraced a more nuanced form of populism.)

Captured in his prime, Hag is a magnificent singer, boasting a rich, supple and stirring voice that could embrace western swing, honky-tonk and softer, nearly countrypolitan sounds with equal expressiveness, while his nimble band never loses the groove. This ’69 live set—which sounds like it’s been “enhanced” by extra overdubbed audience noise—includes some of Haggard’s most soulful efforts, including “Mama Tried,” “White Line Fever,” and “Sing Me Back Home.” The second disc offers another, less-successful live outing, “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” intended to capitalize on the higher profile generated by “Okie from Muskogee” the year before.

Johnny Cash album

As for the man in black, Out Among the Stars, a collection of previously unreleased recordings from ’81 and ’84, finds craggy-voiced Johnny Cash on the verge of separating from Columbia Records, his longtime home, and entering a period of artistic uncertainty that would end in the ’90s with the career-reviving intervention of producer Rick Rubin. If the songs don’t add up to a coherent album, there are still moments that entice, among them the heartbroken “She Used to Love Me a Lot,” a rollicking duet with Waylon Jennings on Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” (also covered on Haggard’s set), and “I Came to Believe,” a moving statement of faith. Among the musicians recently recruited to fill out some of the originally uncompleted tracks are Buddy Miller and Cash’s stepdaughter, Carlene Carter, who returns with an excellent new album of her own next week.

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate