Merle Haggard: I Am What I Am

The country singer drifts back in time to hillbilly jazz and 1940s western swing

Merle Haggard
I Am What I Am
Vanguard

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.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

More on this topic

Suggestions below based on Music