For a young man growing up near Palo Cedro, Calif., Merle Haggard was the grizzled old guy on TV trying to sell houseboats on Lake Shasta. Seeing his wrinkled old face on a low-budget commercial, I didn’t realize then that Haggard was the truest of outlaw countrymen. I mean, in the late 1950s, he was in the audience when Johnny Cash sang at San Quentin prison. In the audience.
And now Haggard is back with his 76th album, I Am What I Am, after 38 No. 1 hits. I Am What I Am is no victory lap — it’s Haggard as he’s always been, telling his listeners what’s on his mind.
“I’ve Seen It All Go Away” is lament about the degradation of American culture. “I’ve watched it all completely fall apart,” he sings. “And I’ve seen our greatest leaders break the people’s heart.” This doesn’t come from a curmudgeon who’s given up: The man who performed for Richard Nixon gave his support to Hillary Clinton two years ago.
DOWNLOAD: "I've Seen It All Go Away"