I Am What I Am
When Johnny Cash played at San Quentin prison, Merle Haggard was in the audience. After doing time, the jailbird went straight and became a country singer himself. “Hag, you’re the guy people think I am,” Cash told him years later.
Haggard, 73, is on fine form on I Am What I Am, growling cowboy verses about his “chequered past” and looking for a place “to hang my hat” (“I found it in a cabin on a hill/Down at the end of the road”) as his immaculate backing band The Strangers crank out old-fashioned country.
No Nine Inch Nails covers here: instead Haggard drifts back in time to hillbilly jazz, piano parlour ballads and 1940s western swing; similar ground as that staked out recently by one-time touring partner Bob Dylan.