Merle Haggard The Peer Sessions

Merle completes his back-to-basics hat trick with this collection, a tribute to the visionary music publisher Ralph Peer, who, in 1927, discovered both the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, effectively kick-starting the country music industry. Although on the surface this album could be considered an afterthought after Haggard's last two efforts - the movingly personal If I Could Only Fly and the rollicking Roots Vol. 1 - it instead comes off as an almost perfect balance of each. These songs clearly mean a lot to Haggard, and he has tackled similar material throughout his career, but never before has a recording, even the previous two, captured the pure honesty he is capable of putting into a performance. It's not just the experience evident in his voice, but the entire production is welcomingly intimate, with his usual cast of musicians sounding remarkably refined. Aside from the digitalisation, it's hard not to believe this recording hasn't been in a time capsule since the '30s. If that wasn't enough, there's even an appearance by 98-year-old songwriter ("You Are My Sunshine") turned governor Jimmie Davis on his own "Hang On To The Memories," and with only one verse he casts a long shadow over Haggard and the rest of the tune. Yet, Haggard just seems to keep getting stronger himself, and I can't foresee another country album this year matching the authenticity of The Peer Sessions. A must for any fan of pure country. (Audium)