In this week's episode we're featuring Merle Haggard's first album for the 1990s and his first for his new label, Curb: "Blue Jungle" (1990). After his former label's parent company (Columbia) fired Johnny Cash in 1985, Hag was mad. Cash's mistreatment and consistent disagreements over artistic direction pushed Haggard to buy his way out his contract and he signed with Curb. What could have been a renaissance, however, turned into a commercial curtain call for Merle - apparently the label routinely delayed the release of new music and put almost no promotion behind his work, and his three albums for Curb tanked on the charts. Add that to a 90s country radio scene already more attuned to "Young Country" and the decade was an exceedingly tough one for Haggard and other country icons. Musically, however, "Blue Jungle" has plenty of highlights - produced by Strangers pianoman Mark Yeary, the album is loaded with vintage Haggard chops and his rough and ready vocal stands up to the new decade well. Hitting several topical issues head on in typical Haggard style, "Me And Crippled Soldiers" and "My Home Is In The Street" address the current affairs of the day - Norm Hamlet is prolific on steel and the final track on the project co-written with hit 80s collaborator Freddy Powers is also the best of the ten song collection - a contemplative cut wondering what might have been if Haggard had never "made it" in "A Bar In Bakersfield".
Merle Haggard - Blue Jungle
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