The word “legend” usually makes an appearance at some point when discussing Merle Haggard. It’s an acknowledgment of his artistry and his standing as “the poet of the common man.” It’s a tribute to his incredible commercial success and to the lasting mark he has made, not just on country music, but on American music as a whole. “I’d be more comfortable with something like ‘professor,’” he once told a reporter, and the description suits him. Studying, analyzing and observing the details of life around him, Haggard relays what he sees, hears and feels through his songs. The lyrics are deceptively simple, the music exceptionally listenable, but Haggard’s real gift is that anyone who hears his songs recognizes the truth in them. Producer Don Was, who has worked with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Bonnie Raitt, told Newsweek in 1996, “He’ll tell you he’s a country singer, but to me the essence of rock and roll is a cry for freedom and rebellion. And I don’t know anyone who embodies it better. Every aspect of his life is a refusal to submit.”
Born in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised among the same spirits (and some of the actual people) who nurtured a young Elvis generations before, Paul Thorn has rambled down back roads and jumped out of airplanes, worked for years in a furniture factory, battled four-time world champion boxer Roberto Durán on national television, opened for Bonnie Raitt, Mark Knopfler, and John Prine among many other headliners, and made some of the most emotionally restless yet fully accessible music of our time.