New Merle Haggard Tribute is a Head Scratcher

merle-haggard-001A new Merle Haggard tribute? Yes!

…that includes Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Thompson Square? Ugh…

Not since the second installment of the Waylon – The Music Inside series was released with the names of Colt Ford and Justin Moore making their way on the track list have we had such a quizzical collection of artists for a tribute album. As cool as it is to see any attention paid to Merle these days from the mainstream establishment, and to see Merle’s much-deserving song Ben Haggard make the cut of contributors, hearing Luke Bryan covering “Pancho & Lefty” (and is that really a Merle song anyway?) or Dustin Lynch taking time from singing about tractor sex to offer his take on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is not what’s going to get your average Merle fan’s motor running.

The Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard compilation out April 1st (no fooling) is being put together by Broken Bow Records, and of course, just like many of these tributes recently, it’s mostly a showcase of label talent with a “tribute” as the backdrop. Jason Aldean, Kristy Lee Cook, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Randy Houser, Parmalee, and Thompson Square all reside on Broken Bow and bow in on the track list, most with two contributions.

working-mans-poet-tribute-to-merle-haggardAnd if you were hoping that maybe they would approach this thing with the Merle spirit, just listen to what Luke Bryan has to say about his very “Mumford & Sons” take on “Pancho & Lefty”: “The original had a Spanish-Mexican flair. We took a real different approach with it …. something with some edge that moves along pretty good. It’s an interesting take.”

Something else interesting: They begged Garth Brooks to allow them to use his cover of “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” from his recent blockbuster Blame It All On My Roots box set. But just like the box set, you can only get the song if you buy the tribute from Wal-Mart.

Complicating the love-hate relationship a true Merle fan might have with this compilation, the ACM Awards being held April 6th are planning to bestow Merle Haggard with a Crystal Milestone Award as part of the ACM festivities, with this tribute as the centerpiece. Once again, it’s great to see the ACM’s or anyone in the mainstream acknowledge Merle (even if it’s half a decade after Taylor Swift was given the same Crystal Milestone Award), but you wonder how much of this is just a platform for Broken Bow to display their own talent.

Luckily if you’re looking for Merle Haggard tributes with not as many question marks swirling around them, there’s been a few of great ones released recently. Suzy Bogguss released Lucky last month: a 12-song tribute to The Hag. And Vince Gill with Paul Franklin paid tribute to Merle & Buck Owens last year with Bakersfield.

Track list for Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard:

  1. Misery and Gin, Randy Houser
  2. Footlights, Joe Nichols
  3. Going Where the Lonely Go, Jason Aldean
  4. Today I Started Loving You Again, Kristy Lee Cook
  5. Carolyn, Toby Keith
  6. Pancho and Lefty, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley
  7. Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, Garth Brooks (Walmart edition only)
  8. You Take Me for Granted, Thompson Square
  9. Mama Tried, Ben Haggard
  10. That’s the Way Love Goes, Dustin Lynch
  11. Make Up and Faded Blue Jeans, Jake Owen
  12. I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, James Wesley
  13. Workin’ Man Blues, Parmalee
  14. Are the Good Times Really Over, Jason Aldean
  15. Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room, Thompson Square
  16. I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink, Dustin Lynch
  17. The Fightin’ Side of Me, James Wesley
  18. My Favorite Memory, Joe Nichols
  19. Ramblin’ Fever, Randy Houser
  20. Sing Me Back Home, Ben Haggard