Merle Haggard has always been a maverick, and it's refreshing how he hasn't changed his approach or attitude to things in a 60-some-year career as a musician, singer, and songwriter -- he has excelled at all three of those things, and if "The Hag" is a brand at this point, it's a brand with integrity. This 20-track, single-disc set collects his biggest and most enduring (and endearing) songs, from the whose-side-am-I-on novelty "Okie from Muskogree" to the wise tenderness of "Mama Tried," the resolute "The Fightin' Side of Me," and the weary determination of "If We Make It Through December." Haggard has always been a concise, careful, and emotionally balanced songwriter, and his recorded legacy is much stronger and varied than many people realize -- these 20 tracks are only the very tip of the iceberg. Still, listeners looking for a quick and accurate introduction to this country legend will be more than happy with this set. ~ Steve Leggett
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