My Kind of Country

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Daily Archives: May 11, 2016

Classic Rewind: Floyd Cramer – ‘Last Date’

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Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Kern River’

KernrivermerlehaggardMerle Haggard released Kern River on Epic Records in 1985. The album was produced by Grady Martin and marked his third LP for the label.

The only single from the album is the self-penned title track, which peaked at #10. The song, although highly repetitive, is a brilliant piece of songwriting. The story entails a man’s grief over the drowning of his true love in the river where they first met. Emmylou Harris had the good sense to reprise the tune twenty-eight years later on All I Intended To Be. Her haunting version is incredible and benefits from an added depth Haggard only hinted at.

Besides the classic title track, Kern River is also known for its slew of covers and other Haggard goodies. He adds a distinctive horn element to “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You,” a chart topper for Dolly Parton five years earlier. He remains faithful to Parton’s version despite the added sonic texture. His version of Eddie Rabbitt’s “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is far superior to the original and far more country. “Big Butter and Egg Man” is a pleasant version of the Jazz standard complete with some rather excellent piano frills throughout.

Those other goodies include tracks that previously appeared on other Haggard projects. “Natural High” makes its second appearance on a Haggard album in two years. This is the single version, that hit #1, with Janie Fricke on harmonies. “I Wonder Where I’ll Find You At Tonight” first surfaced in 1972, with classic production from the era. This version is an updated mid-tempo honky-tonker that proves both recordings are equally excellent. The mournful ballad “There’s Somebody Else On Your Mind” is the third and final track on Kern River Haggard had a hand in writing.

“There, I’ve said It Again” benefits from rather charming fiddle but not much else production-wise. “Ridin’ High” and “There Won’t Be Another Now” are typical-of-their-era ballads that are good, but nothing too memorable. “Old Watermill” is an excellent up-tempo number that perfectly bookends the album.

Listening to Kern River I can clearly hear the vocal similarities between Haggard and Clint Black, who would explode on the charts just five years later. It’s a very good album with some excellent material that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s overloaded with a few too many ballads, but that’s only a slight criticism. I highly recommend seeking out a copy.

Grade: A