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I Am What I Am by Merle Haggard

Grade: B+

I’m no longer a fugitive, sings Merle Haggard on the title track of I Am What I Am, his 76th album.

Decades removed from his criminal past, what he’s getting at here is an issue of identity. The 12 tracks (10 of which are Haggard originals) show a man who’s never been surer of who he is—and isn’t.

The 73-year-old’s mature, wizened perspective permeates the disc, illuminating simple observations like Love is pretty when it’s new. On bittersweet songs like “We’re Falling in Love Again,” he implies it can be just as attractive when it’s older.

While melancholy wafts through “I’ve Seen It Go Away,” a rumination on an America moving past its prime, Merle displays gentle wit and high spirits in a voice that is surprisingly strong and limber after a bout with lung cancer.

His pure, honest expression of self is enough to make this collection enjoyable, but his easy command of all that is essential about authentic country music makes it something to celebrate.

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