Rhythm & Views 

Merle Haggard

"Get your mind off yourself, think of somebody else," sings Merle Haggard in his new song "Pray," which appears on The Bluegrass Sessions. Listening to Haggard's authentic voice in our inauthentic era of bullshit music, culture and politics, one slips deeper into the realization that life is more spiritually impoverished and narcissistic than ever before. Surely, global warming stems not from fossil fuels, but from the hot air the United States generates, whether in the form of liberation theology (Iraq) or the increasing corporatization of the soul.

Haggard's music stands in contrast to bullshit, and The Bluegrass Sessions is more evidence that he's one of the great artists of this or any century. Here, he unveils a slew of wonderful songs with bluegrass instrumentation (courtesy of Merle's All Stars), including "What Happened?," which mourns the passing America's promise: "Trailer parks with a building code / Cul-de-sacs on a country road / High-tech bars with bad karaoke sounds / Uncle Sam keeps your money spent / Pay your tithes, you can't pay the rent / Foreign cars selling big in American towns."

"Learning to Live With Myself" offers the kind of introspection country music, with its melancholy clichés, rarely musters, especially when Haggard notes, "even locked down in a prison / there's a cellmate with friendship to earn."

The All Stars comprise everyone from Marty Stuart (mandolin) to Rob Ickes (dobro), and the album, which took two days to record, is easygoing and never disappointing. Listen for Alison Krauss' high baritone on Haggard's classic "Mama's Hungry Eyes."

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