Working in Tennessee by Merle Haggard

While it lacks the emotional heft of Merle’s acclaimed 2010 album, I Am What I Am, the cancer survivor’s latest album boasts plenty of flinty independence. The longtime musical rebel revels in that freedom here, mixing personalized new material with freewheeling covers (including the Cash-Carter classic “Jackson”) and revitalized remakes of previously released tracks that pointedly impart much-needed dignity to today’s blue-collared and downtrodden.

He’s high-spirited and cantankerous on the Bob Wills-esque title track, which takes aim at Nashville’s power to attract would-be big-timers and hits its target, minus an offhand reference to the devastating 2010 Nashville flood that dims the song’s humor.

Merle jabs at country’s infatuation with rock on “Too Much Boogie Woogie,” though the song itself bears a boogie beat and harsh, exaggerated vocal turns that suggest he may be slyly mocking the notion of “pure” country—something the Hag himself, who routinely weaves jazz and blues into his work, is likely less concerned about than the authenticity and attitude that he pumps liberally into this collection.

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