Editor’s Note: I originally intended to review another album for my debut at Country Music Minds. However, for obvious reasons, I decided to it was only fitting to review a Merle Haggard album instead. Thanks again to Louis for inviting me to contribute.
In 1982, George Jones and Merle Haggard collaborated on the duet album A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine. While perhaps not among the very best entries of either artist’s discography, it was a fine album that contained several strong tracks, chief among them being their classic cover of Willie Nelson’s “Yesterday’s Wine”. Unfortunately, we had to wait nearly a quarter of a century for a follow-up.
In 2006, Kickin’ Out the Footlights…Again was released to critical acclaim. Subtitled Jones Sings Haggard, Haggard Sings Jones, the album’s central conceit is that the two longtime friends pick out and cover their favorite songs from one another’s catalogs. There’s also a few duets and a tribute cover or two to the pair’s idols. While an album of all-new material may have been preferable, this is an extremely pleasant country record. It was also the last album George Jones would ever release.
The two artists dig fairly deep into each other’s discographies and unearth some gems many listeners will likely have never heard before. Almost every song was released as a single at some point so there isn’t much in the way of extreme obscurities, but there aren’t many super-obvious choices like “Mama Tried” or “He Stopped Loving Her Today” either. Most every track here is a classic entry in country music sung by a master of the genre. I could easily write a paragraph on every song, but I’ll spare you the reading. However, I will say if you’ve never heard some of the lesser-known tunes such as “Things Have Gone to Pieces”, “Born With the Blues”, and “You Take Me For The Granted”, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
While the years have unquestionably inflicted some wear on the two men’s voices, especially Jones’, their masterful interpretative abilities remain unscathed. At first, there is a bit of novelty value in hearing the two artists sing each others’ songs, but after repeated listens, you’d hardly remember that these aren’t the originals because each artist fully makes the songs his own. No performance here will exactly supplant the timeless originals in my mind, but they are immensely likable in and of themselves.
It’s hard to find any flaws with this album other than the fact that the two men’s voices have aged, but that’s more of academic interest than something that truly detracts from the experience. I can’t envision any fan of traditional country not enjoying this album. You have two of the all-time greats singing various classics of the country music canon. What’s not to like?