Haggard’s ‘Tennessee’ leaves you yearning for more

Jon Nelson, Reporter

After being raised around his music and seeing him half a dozen times in concert, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Merle Haggard.

However, with his new record, “Working in Tennessee,” the “Okie from Muskogee” proves that despite his age, he still has a few surprises up his sleeve.

The title track from the album is “Pure Haggard” in the best way possible.

The lyrics seem to be about a down-on-his-luck country singer, but they could also be the superstar taking a jab at the country music establishment.

The music is the mix of country and twangy Bluegrass that Haggard has perfected in the last few decades.

“Down on the Houseboat” is a standout track because it’s so unusual.

It has a ’80s pop-country, Jimmy Buffett feel that seems like such a sharp contrast to what I’ve come to expect from the man.

The song “Sometimes I Dream” is the kind of beautifully gut-wrenching piece that could have only been written by an old soul that’s been to hell and back a few times.

With lyrics like “Seldom I laugh and seldom I ever cry,” and “Forever a lonely man, but sometimes I dream,” it’s hard not to be transported into his torment.

Along with new material, the legend also recorded a few country standards on the album.

Haggard has covered “Cocaine Blues” (which happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time) for years but he puts a new spin on it for “Working in Tennessee.”  The song is indescribably strange upon first listen.

It was only after a few spins that I was able to realize it sounded almost happy.

A happy song about a man who kills his wife in a cocaine-induced frenzy?

The highlight of the album comes with the last song. “Jackson,” also a cover, is a duet Haggard recorded with his daughter Theresa.

I got chills listening to the song because Theresa sounds so much like June Carter Cash.

It made me think of her and Johnny singing it and I almost got tears in my eyes.

Thematically, “Working in Tennessee” is similar to much of what Haggard has done in the past.

However, the album doesn’t feel stale.

The listener is taken through a journey of struggle, love, despair and joy as seen through the eyes of the working class man.

My only complaint about Haggard’s latest offering is the length.

At just over 30 minutes, it leaves me wondering, “what else he’s got banging around in his head?”