Music Reviews

Best of the Man from Bakersfield
40 #1 Hits -Merle Haggard

Capitol Records’ latest Merle Haggard compilation includes such favorites as “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” “Working Man’s Blues,” “If We Make it Through December,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Mama Tried” and many more now-classic songs.

Haggard’s artistry and his standing as “The Poet of the Common Man” place him beside Hank Williams as one of the most influential artists in country music. He came out of the Bakersfield musical scene, and these 40 standards are a walk down memory lane. Beginning with his first No. 1 record, “The Fugitive,” this two-disc set also includes “Natural High” and “My Favorite Memory” scattered in the mix. A great greatest hits for the rig. A

Elvis Ultimate Gospel – Elvis Presley
When Elvis Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, the world not only lost the “King of Rock and Roll,” but it also lost one of the greatest voices of all time – period. Presley was raised on gospel, and the Mississippi-born legend added a unique twist to the powerful praise music. The Elvis Ultimate Gospel collection includes the best of the “King’s” songs of rejoicing.

“How Great Thou Art” is the first track on the 24-song disc, and many believe Presley’s is the greatest rendition of this timeless hymn. The hair will stand up on the back of your neck as you listen to “Amazing Grace,” “So High” and “Crying in the Chapel.” His personal fusion of black and white musical influences, incorporating R&B and country, produced some of the finest and most durable recordings. “Miracle of the Rosary,” “Reach Out to Jesus,” “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and the closer, “Peace in the Valley (For Me),” prove that there’ll never be another like Elvis Aaron Presley. A

Days of Our Lives – James Otto
Growing up in Washington state, newcomer James Otto lived a rugged life before moving to Nashville to chase what Alan Jackson called the Neon Rainbow. A Navy veteran, Otto came to Music City with nothing but a powerful voice that echoed his influences – Willie, Hank Jr. and the Kentucky Headhunters.

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Country radio dropped the ball on Otto’s first single, “The Ball.” This well-written song looks back on the connection between a man and his son. “Lowdown on the High Life” is a song about alcoholism. “Misspent Youth,” “Gone,” “Never Say Goodbye” and “Sunday Morning, Saturday Night” showcase Otto’s powerful pipes. Look for a lot more from this Washingtonian. B

Strong – Tracy Lawrence
In the 1990s, no other country newcomer put out a consistent string of hit songs (18 hitting No. 1) that didn’t all run together and sound the same. Tracy Lawrence sure enjoyed a dynamic decade, thanks to songs like “Sticks and Stones,” “Alibis,” “If the World Had a Front Porch” and “Lessons Learned.”

After undergoing a nasty string of personal misfortunes, Lawrence was suspended by Atlantic Records and signed with DreamWorks for this new lease. Teamed with old producer James Stroud, the singer sounds like the Tracy of yore with tracks like “Paint Me a Birmingham,” “Everywhere But Hollywood,” “Stones” and “Sawdust on Her Halo.” Welcome back Tracy! B+