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POP MUSIC : ALBUM REVIEW : Merle, They Owe You One

October 09, 1994|Robert Hilburn


"Mama's Hungry Eyes: A Tribute to Merle Haggard"


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Tonight, the bottle let me down .

Those words from a Haggard honky-tonk classic open this 13-song tribute to one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in country music since Hank Williams.

Unfortunately, most of this tribute album lets him down.

The idea behind the collection (which benefits Second Harvest Food Bank Network) was to have current country stars--Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Pam Tillis, Brooks & Dunn and others--record Haggard tunes.

Few come even close to living up to Haggard's vocal standards. They either try to copy Haggard's style (an embarrassment) or assert their own style (wasted time except for Vince Gill's "The Farmer's Daughter"). Predictably, the strongest tracks are by the artists whose talent is closest to Haggard's greatness--Willie Nelson ("Today I Started Loving You Again) and Emmylou Harris ("Mama's Hungry Eyes").

The quality of the songs alone, however, lifts the package above most contemporary country albums. One hopes it will turn a new generation of country fans on to Haggard, whose own records fall on the wrong side of the generation gap to get much airplay on country stations. When he sings these songs, we're talking five stars.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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