Merle Haggard If I Could Only Fly

With Johnny Cash, George Jones and Willie Nelson rejuvenating themselves in recent years, it's left only Merle Haggard as the last of country's living Mt. Rushmore to do the same by getting back to basics. But this album should not be the place to start for someone unfamiliar with Haggard's work. Any compilation with "Mama Tried," "Sing Me Back Home" and "Working Man Blues" should do it. If I Could Only Fly is the sound of a man comfortable with his age and a cursive knowledge of Haggard's extraordinary life is therefore needed to fully appreciate these songs, which nevertheless remain true to the brutal honesty that has always been the hallmark of his writing. While the production is sparse and intimate, and Haggard's singing still without peer, anyone looking for a new batch of roadhouse anthems will be disappointed. Mostly we get snapshots of Haggard's recent life, as a man staring down his autumn years and carrying the burden of his past while trying to adjust to the present. As an overall portrait of the man at this point in time, If I Could Only Fly works poignantly well, and for that reason it deserves to stand alone from the rest of Haggard's catalogue. (Epitaph)