Perhaps taking a cue from Columbia's theme-centered 2000 series of Johnny Cash compilations (GOD, MURDER, LOVE), Capitol gave Merle Haggard's work a similar treatment in 2001. Like Cash, Haggard was always regarded as a poet of the working class, and the four volumes of this series (HURTIN', DRINKIN', CHEATIN', and PRISON) reflect the proletarian ethos the hard-living Haggard knows so much about. The fact that his Capitol tenure encapsulated Haggard's most commercially and aesthetically successful recording years means that much more impact for this quartet of honky-tonk treasures.
There are few things more venerated in honky-tonk music than drinking songs, and other than George Jones there's no greater practitioner of the form than Merle. The characters in his songs turn to drink as a source of false pride ("Drink Up and be Somebody"), community (the country milestone "Swinging Doors"), and pleasant oblivion ("Wine Takes Me Away"). Ever the astute observer of the human condition, Haggard doesn't fail to point out the inevitable downside of such lifestyles, as in the aptly titled classic "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down." Still, the sense of abandon with which he describes a drunkard's pursuit of inebriation is intoxicating in and of itself, which makes DRINKIN' resonate all the more.