Suzy Bogguss
Amy Dickerson

On February 4, Suzy Bogguss will release "Lucky," a collection of songs from the pen of country music legend Merle Haggard. However, don't tell her that it is a tribute record. She looks at it a little differently.

"The truth is that Merle Haggard made records of his songs that are going to live forever," she tells Billboard. "What I was trying to do was show people what an amazing songwriter he is. I didn't know if some people might find that his artistry overwhelms that. I wanted to show that his songs are so universal that a woman can sing them, and still get across the real life messages and stories that he tells in his songs."

Bogguss admits that Haggard has been a part of her career story from the beginning – going back to her very first hit from 1989. "I had cut 'Somewhere Between,' and it was the title cut from my first album. It was actually my first single to chart, and I actually got to meet Merle and do a few shows with him. I've been a big fan of his since my dad played all of his songs on the 8-track player."

She says that even though she's gone on to enjoy many more hits on the charts – and win the 1992 CMA Horizon Award, the emotional simplicity of that first chart record left a mark with her fans. "Though I've cut many more albums, I had left that song in the show because it's always been a favorite. It's not available anymore. Capitol doesn't sell the record. So, unless they want to download it, they can't buy the song. People had asked me to re-record the song, and I started thinking about doing it. But, that was kind of tricky. I didn't want to compete with the original. One day, my band and I started messing around, and were doing 'The Bottle Let Me Down.' I started to pick out more of Merle's songs, and little by little, I started thinking about making an entire album."

Bogguss covers a wide range of Haggard classics on Lucky, including one that she says might be a little surprising for some of her fans – 1981's "I Think I'll Just Stay Here And Drink." She says she can definitely relate to the song. "I've been married for twenty-seven years, and I get mad sometimes. So mad, I can't talk about it at times. I think that in this case, I was using that feeling of 'I just need a little time to cool down and we'll discuss it, but right now I'm really mad. I was using that in my take of the song. I will be home, don't worry, but I'm going to stay here and drink right now. It doesn't really go with what people think of concerning my personality, but just know I have a lot of scotch-Irish in me, so I do get mad!"

She delves into another emotion for "Today I Started Loving You Again." Co-written with his former wife and duet partner Bonnie Owens, Bogguss feels that Haggard touched a nerve with a lot of people by writing the song. "I love the whole story of Bonnie & Merle and their whole relationship, and how close they were. To me, that's a real easy song to relate to. Sometimes, you live with somebody and you're feeling contrary for a while. A few days go by, and you haven't talked to each other all that much. But, then all of a sudden, you remember your history with each other, and you think 'Of course, I love you. I might turn my back on you for three days or might not have made something for dinner that you really wanted, but there it goes. Relationships were always what Merle wrote about the best."

The singer will be touring extensively beginning in February to promote "Lucky."