The Lonesome Fugitive: The Merle Haggard Anthology (1963-1977)

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Of the 40 songs included in this two-CD overview, 39 made the country charts and a remarkable 22 peaked at No. 1. The collection opens with four early Tally hits, but Haggard truly hits his stride when he begins penning his own songs for Capitol in 1965. Songs of family and faith accompany honky-tonk drinking anthems, incendiary (if not sarcastic) anti-hippie rants, and poignant stories of rebellion, prison life, and loneliness. Backed by the talented Strangers, Haggard created an emotionally honest and directly delivered style of country that, along with Buck Owens's work, came to define the Bakersfield sound. The drawback of focusing on Hag's original hits, however, is the omission of his inspired tributes to legends such as Jimmie Rodgers. --Marc Greilsamer

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