I Am What I Am
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2010, Volume 17, #6
Written by John Metzger
Mon June 28, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Merle Haggard has always been as solid as a rock, and he never has shrunk from saying whatever happens to be on his mind at any given moment. Despite a lack of attention from the media, he consistently has recorded and released albums, year after year, for decades. Save for a string of duds in the 1980s, most of them have been consistently sturdy affairs. Lately, Haggard has been quietly mounting a resurgence. After the utter demolition of Americaís foundation at the hands of George W. Bush and his band of cronies and accomplices, which includes the lax eye of big-business news organizations, Haggardís commercial appeal once again has blossomed as he has challenged the status quo and has pondered the fate of a troubled nation in songs like Thatís the News, What Happened?, and America First.
A hint of politics lines Haggardís latest set I Am What I Am, too, primarily during the effortís opening track Iíve Seen It Go Away. Now that the Bush Administration has been sent packing, however, Haggard opted not to focus upon specific policies and issues. Instead, he laments over the countryís general state of decline. He also mourns the lack of leaders who are deserving of admiration and respect, while centering everything around the ever-changing world. As he yearns for the past, Haggard ultimately sets the tone for the endeavor.
I Am What I Am is, in effect, a back-to-basics excursion. It not only is filled with gritty working-class tales, but also its lyrics are reflective without being apologetic. On Old Tanker Train, Haggard paints a portrait from his childhood. Elsewhere, the presence of his wife Theresa on Live and Love Always adds heft to the rest of the albumís observations about love, whether it is fading away (Pretty When Itís New) or returning (Weíre Falling in Love Again). As always, Haggard doesnít whitewash the bad moments. Instead, he latches onto the good ones, while reaffirming his faith.
Given his nostalgic outlook, it isnít surprising that the arrangements that Haggard employed throughout I Am What I Am are hardly contemporary. Haggard has dabbled in a number of different traditional styles in the past decade, and many of them inform the material on his new endeavor. Live and Love Always is modeled after Bob Willsí Western swing. Yet, it also contains explicit references to Haggardís The Bluegrass Sessions. Elsewhere, nods to Dixieland jazz are tucked into The Road to My Heart; hints of Unforgettable surface here and there, too.
For the most part, however, I Am What I Am embraces the framework supplied by classic country. Haggard crafted the album with his touring band as well as a few special guests ó guitarist Reggie Young, dobro player Rob Ickes, and drummer George Receli. The ensembleís spontaneously casual approach exudes a tremendous amount of down-home charm. Even when the songs are clouded with sorrow, Haggard sounds like a man who has done his time and found peace with himself and his god. I Am What I Am might not be the best album in Haggardís canon, but it certainly is one of the most natural and effortless endeavors he has ever managed to assemble.
Of Further Interest...
I Am What I Am is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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