Working Man’s Journey

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With CD sales in the doldrums, record stores are closing nationwide—but nontraditional outlets like Starbucks, Gap and Cracker Barrel are having unexpected success selling music alongside their usual wares. Cracker Barrel has issued several sharp compilations in the past several years (including last year’s nifty Songs of the Year various-artists set), but Working Man’s Journey is the most intriguing yet: a surprisingly cohesive gathering of thematically linked songs by the “Poet of the Common Man,” Merle Haggard.

Working Man’s Journey takes thoughtful stock of the challenges and satisfactions of blue-collar life over the course of its dozen tracks—half of them all-new songs, half unreleased recordings of classics. The tunes of more recent vintage, especially the wistful “C’Mon Sixty-Five” and droll “Like a Train Left the Tramp,” sit nicely beside cornerstones like “If We Make It Through December.”

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Other performers include Rodney Crowell, Patty Griffin and Jason Isbell.