Release Date: Oct 4, 2011
Record label: Vanguard
Genre(s): Country, Americana, Outlaw Country, Bakersfield Sound
It's been 42 years since Merle Haggard sung about fading American ideals in "Okie From Muskogee," and he's only gotten more obsessed with the subject. On his ninth disc in 11 years, the 74-year-old rails against shady politicians, chemtrails and the current country scene. But the album – recorded at Haggard's California ranch – benefits from a relaxed, among-friends vibe, and Haggard's more upbeat singing about his past, from his rough early Nashville days to the hazy period when he lived on California's Lake Shasta on "Down on the Houseboat." "The party's not over/Or so it seems," he sings, sounding both grizzled and hopeful.
Another link in a chain of classic albums by a man who has forever changed the face of country. At 74, one of American music’s patriarchs sounds as sprite as ever, kicking off with a great honky-tonk anthem, the joyous title song. Beating lung cancer back in 2008, which Haggard assumed would be his death sentence, this is music from the brink and back.
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. ” Hag never rushes things, never turns up the volume, his western swing now bearing a closer resemblance to the gentlemanly amiability of Hank Thompson instead of the wild, woolly Bob Wills.
Merle Haggard is a textbook example of longevity: Over the course of his career, which now spans 48 years, the country star has released a staggering 76 studio albums and nearly 100 singles. By this point, Haggard’s albums are simple, straightforward additions to his catalog, serving more to subtly color the picture he’s been working on for decades rather than trying to paint a new one. Working in Tennessee, Haggard’s second album for Vanguard Records, contains all the classic elements of his sound: country with heavy blues undertones, lively boogie rhythms, and song structures that focus on the singer-songwriter’s light California twang and honest, often humorous lyrics.
Like Willie Nelson, Meryl Streep, kittens, and apple pie, Merle Haggard occupies a place in our culture beyond the scope of criticism. Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, he has more than a dozen number one country albums to his credit, and more than three dozen number one singles. Along with Buck Owens, he was largely responsible for popularizing the Bakersfield Sound, a musical antidote to the over-produced, syrupy records coming out of Nashville in the 1960s.
An album full of relaxed mastery, as well as grit and charm, from the country veteran. Ninian Dunnett 2011 If you think a guy might sound a little jaded coming to his 49th studio album, Merle Haggard should set you straight. Working in Tennessee is a sheer tonic: a warm brew of the charm that has distinguished one of country’s great heroes for half a century.