Working in Tennessee, Merle Haggard's second album for Vanguard, plays a little slower and softer than 2010’s I Am What I Am, a record where Hag gently dwelled on his mortality. There are times where his age crosses his mind – particularly on “Sometimes I Dream,” where he casually lists off things that aren’t likely to pass his way again – but generally, he’s ready to “Laugh It Off” as he gripes about what’s playing on the radio, smokes a little dope, and enjoys playing a little bit of blues as he looks back to the past, even cutting a couple of old favorites (“Cocaine Blues,” “Jackson”) and a new version of “Working Man Blues.”
Same Train, Different Time is Merle Haggard's affectionate tribute to Jimmie Rodgers. Haggard provides narration between the songs, offering tales of Rodgers' life and music. While the album is rooted in the past, the key to its success is how Haggard updates these traditional songs without losing sight of their roots. There are contemporary folk, country and blues influences scattered throughout the record, adding depth to the music and proving that Rodgers' music is indeed timeless.
Released in 1971, The Land of Many Churches is similar to other Merle Haggard tribute albums released in the same era, including Same Train, Different Time and I Love Dixie Blues. To his credit, Haggard had a greater need to shine light on the music that influenced him, more so than the need to release material that guaranteed a surefire hit. These 24 tracks include gospel chestnuts "Precious Memories," "Turn Your Radio On," "Amazing Grace," and a great version of the Hank Williams composition "I Saw the Light." Recorded live at the Nashville Union Rescue Mission and several rural churches across the country, Haggard is joined by guests Bonnie Owens and the Carter Family. Highly recommended to traditional country fans.