Merle Haggard, Mama Tried/ Pride In What I Am

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Mama Tried/ Pride In What I Am

Merle Haggard

By now Haggard's life has become pretty much an open book. "Mama Tried," with its indelible guitar intro, is perhaps his most frankly soul-searching effort yet, but most of this album is made up of outside material, and once again, some of it — Dolly Parton's "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)" — is more than a little surprising. Though strong, it has a transitional feel — which is only strengthened by Pride, the finest album of his pre-"Okie from Muskogee" career though only the title song was a hit. Dominated by acoustic instruments, with more of a western accent than usual, the album sounds like nothing else in Haggard's '60s catalog (or any other country music of that era). Instead, it's more akin to Music from Big Pink, the Band's debut from the same year, in its emphasis on ensemble playing so tight it sounds loose.