The 1980s were a tough time for country music; mainstream Nashville was filled with watered-down MOR, and classic country singers like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash were foundering. True to form, the famously willful Merle Haggard stuck to his guns throughout this dark era, and his stint on Epic was full of tradition-minded, emotion-filled country music as powerful as anything being recorded at the time, if not as arresting as his legendary '60s work.
"Big City," from Haggard's 1981 album of the same name, became something of a staple tune. The randy "Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room" reveals not only Merle's rascally nature, but his ongoing infatuation with the Western Swing sound. The mournful ballads "Going Where the Lonely Go" and "Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)" show Haggard's matchless way with melancholy. Duets with George Jones and Willie Nelson indicate that Haggard never lost the respect of his peers, even if his profile at the time wasn't at its highest. Many point to the late '90s as Merle's "comeback" period, but this collection proves that neither he nor his gift ever really went away.