Haggard Releases New Album I Am What I Am
The cover of Haggard’s I Am What I Am.
Merle Haggard still has plenty to say in that plaintive yet authoritative voice of his—a voice that has sang 38 number-one hits over the past four decades—and that he does on new album I Am What I Am, released April 20.
It’s tempting to say that with this new album, Haggard has returned. In fact, anytime the 72-year-old outlaw country legend and longtime Fender signature artist picks up a guitar and a pen, it’s commonplace for the press nowadays to constitute it as a “comeback.” But the fact is that Haggard never left. And that’s something we can all be thankful for, because in a world where authentic voices of real country seem to be in increasingly short supply, Merle Haggard still has a way with a song.
Each of the dozen songs on I Am What I Am proves that at any age, Haggard’s interpretive mastery and phrasing are unmatched. The man is simply a national treasure.
Ably backed as always by his ace band, the Strangers, and a handful of guest musicians (including guitarist Reggie Young and Bob Dylan drummer George Receli), Haggard is equally relaxed and rowdy on I Am What I Am while being as confident, focused and outspoken as ever. Maybe a little more introspective than usual, but he’s more than earned it.
“I’ve Seen it Go Away” opens the album with Haggard’s typical fierce honesty, also on display in “Bad Actor.” Elsewhere, his western swing roots show on “Pretty When It’s New” and “The Road To My Heart.” Haggard duets with his wife, Theresa, on the rollicking “Live And Love Always,” revisits his childhood on “Oil Tanker Train” (“My favorite song on the album—that’s a true deal,” he said), and finds the contentment of love and home on “We’re Falling in Love Again” and “Down at the End of the Road.” “How Did You Find Me Here” takes him from depression to joy before Haggard goes rough-edged on “Stranger in the City” and “Mexican Bands.” The album closes with its title track, in which a weathered but calmer Haggard in his sunset lays it all out as directly as he can—“no longer a fugitive,” “not a drifter” and “not on the lam,” but “just a seeker” and “just a sinner” who says “I do what I do,” “I am what I am” and “I do give a damn.”
It’s the sort of straight candor for which fans have loved Haggard for half a century now. And it’s the reason why Rolling Stone recently called him “One of the most important singers and songwriters in American Music history” and why No Depression said, “Merle Haggard is the greatest living American songwriter.”
In further testament to Haggard’s enduring appeal, I Am What I Am debuted on the Billboard Top 200 chart at number 75 and on the country chart at number 17; Haggard’s highest chart debuts since 1983.