Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No. 484: Branded Man

Band: Merle Haggard
Album: Branded Man
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In the same way Johnny Cash was a romantic vigilante, Merle Haggard was a badass who could knock your ass to the floor. His introspective laments dot the album and his beautiful manvoice portray the lyrics perfectly.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It should probably higher, but this is a decent placement. The sound isn't wildly divergent, so I can see why people don't like it. It is a genre piece.
Best song: The title track is brilliant and "Gone Crazy" is an amazing uptempo number. "I Threw Away the Rose" is aching and pretty.
Worst song: I like every song on this record.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

You know, I've complained over and over about the lack of hip hop on this list, but where's the country music? I'm not a country fan, but the genre was one of rock and roll's most influential precursors. Yes, there is a little more country on the list, but country has had a longer lifespan. Save for Hank Williams and Johhny Cash, there isn't much country here.

Moreover, there's absolutely no modern country. None. Now, I'm woefully ignorant of this particular genre, but shouldn't Garth Brooks make an appearance here? Or Faith Hill? Or the Dixie Chicks? Or someone from that genre? Instead of 50 Dylan albums and every band that ever set foot in San Francisco in 1967?


Merle Haggard is a badass. Like Cash, Haggard came into country when the idea of a noble cowboy was giving in to the Leone-style mythos of the 1960s. Cowboys, for many, were more about badasses and gunslingers than the Roy Rogers of the world. Haggard's version of "Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive" is buttressed by the album's title track -- about being misaccused -- and the not very subtle "Don't Get Married," a song in which the protagonist is in prison and asks Julie to remain faithful. After all, "someday, I'll be free." Similarly, the album wraps up with "I Made the Prison Band."

Hell, even the love songs are salty. "Go Home" is the tragic love story of Maria, a Mexican woman, and the protagonist, presumably Haggard. Set against a slight mariachi guitar line, the song is a cool crossover and a wonderful lyric.


Haggard's voice is strong and manly. "Somewhere Between" features his and Bonnie Owens' wonderful vocals playing off one another. The album's instrumentation is straight-up country, with layered guitars, an upright bass and a slide working the melody. It's a perfectly pleasant listen and a great surprise. This one is a classic.


SoulBoogieAlex said...

I'm pleasantly surprised here by this review. I thought you didn't like country? The Hag is about as country as can get. I love the myth of the man, playing with Lefty Frizzell and deciding he wants to make a profession out of it after seeing Cash in Folsom, as a member of the audience! Hag is as real as music can get.

R.J. said...

Yeah, this one is on the same level as Willie Nelson and Cash. It's really interesting country done in voice that really resonates with me. Good stuff.