Merle Haggard and some of his contemporaries have been the cream of the country music crop for so long it seems they could have invented the genre, or at the least defined it.
Merle Haggard and some of his contemporaries have been the cream of the country music crop for so long it seems they could have invented the genre, or at the least defined it. But they, too, have their influences, and Hag pays glowing, heartfelt homage to his on this, his second release for Anti-. First and foremost among the heroes is Lefty Frizzell, whom Haggard covers on about half of these songs, proudly offering up in the process Frizzell's former guitarist, Norm Stephens, who shines throughout. Recorded in Haggard's living room, Roots is both relaxed and reverent, with the softly swaying "Always Late (With Your Kisses)," a spritely "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)," and a sardonic, note-perfect "My Baby's Just Like Money." Elsewhere, nods to two Hanks—Williams ("Honky Tonkin'," "Take These Chains From My Heart") and Thompson ("I'll Sign My Heart Away")—are sometimes ragged but always right. As a songwriter, Haggard is still 100 proof, and three new originals here alternate between vulnerability and rugged cool, always staying within the Frizzell groove. While paying tribute to his roots, Haggard further cements his own stature as one of country music's greatest treasures, even if it takes a punk label to show us.—RW