MERLE HAGGARD & MAC WISEMAN
If Teardrops Were Pennies - High On A Hilltop - I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home - I'll Be All Smiles Tonight - Learning To Live With Myself - Jimmy Brown The Newsboy - Mama Tried - Sunny Side of Life - Bringing Mary Home - Tis Sweet To Be Remembered - Old Christian Soldiers - Lord Don't Give Up On Me - Hold Fast To The Right
OK, give me a chance to see through the tears I shed from the very beginning of this incredibly remarkable album by two of my heroes Merle Haggard and Mac Wiseman. I couldn't believe it, last Tuesday the phone rang, I answered in my genial way, and on the other end of the line was Mac Wiseman. "Hello Bob, Mac Wiseman here." Well that's all it took. Mac is the most important mover and shaker, not only in the creation of traditional rural country music, but the most important mover and shaker in keeping it alive. A founder of the Country Music Association as well as ROPE in Nashville, this very pleasant man was one of my first choices for the "Old Time Country Music" PBS television show I hosted for seven years that eventually aired in 22 states. Now to this CD. The opening song, with a distinctive Dobro intro, knocked me senseless right off the bat, because of its purity, its innocence, its sincerity, its honesty. For me this is the very epitome of 'country' music and what the word 'country' word actually means. My experience working with Mac Wiseman is certainly a large part of why I continue to battle for the 'real' country music of rural America. It's a very special musical art form and genre, and is being bullied and used in a most undignified manner today in commercial music, but no matter, as long as there is a Merle Haggard and a Mac Wiseman standing strongly by its side, it will be a very difficult representation of rural America to destroy. Mac, as many of you know, is up in his years, mostly confined to a wheelchair these days, but his voice, his energy, his dedication is stronger than ever. Hearing him sing on this CD took me back to our very first festival of old-time American rural music in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he was also my first choice performer. That same festival is now in its 40th year. Mac was terrific then, and he's not only terrific now, he's better. Like a very distinctive and remarkable vintage of wine, age makes it better, solid proof in Mac's incredible voice. This CD is without a doubt one of the very best and very real 'traditional' musical offerings in the music of today. So, already totally amazed at the incredible durability and sustainability of Mac Wiseman, my other solid hero, Merle Haggard joins in, and turns on the golden voice of tradition to enthrall me even more. Is this weird or what. Merle and Willie are the two super-stars I've never had the gumption to try to become close to, simply because of their obvious God-given ability to not only understand, but able to place before us a very religious listening experience. On this CD "Mama Tried" has never sounded so good, with the acoustic backing, the traditional trait, the obvious love Haggard has for the experience of music. From his first Johnny Cash exposure to the 'way' music can express true feelings, Merle has never faltered in his presentation of real, honest, sincere, true, beautiful, even gutsy presentations of America's rural music. "Opry" is a word transfigured from the word "Opera." Opera is a story telling presentation at a very high level and usually European in origin and sung in Italian or French or some other European language. Opry is the very same thing, except it is more simple, very American, very rural, and English in language. Merle Haggard is the very epitome of the word 'Opry' in all its many forms. His astonishing ability to place before our ears not only the romance of rural music, but the sweetened presentation that makes it so special, so revered by so many, so American to its very core.
This remarkable musical project came about when Merle asked Mac to do a recording session together. Mac said it took all of 3 seconds for him to say yes. AND one of the best traditional music producers in the business, Ronnie Reno took on the gentlemanly post of putting it all together. First off he gathered some of the best musicians still living that 'know' what the traditional sound is all about. Rob Ickes on Dobro, that just knocks the listener out on those first 15 seconds of that first song, which determines whether a musical work is going to be listened to or not. He certainly did that with "If Teardrops Were Pennies." Merle does his own guitar work, superlative as usual, however Marty Stuart provides his own special 'take' on guitar, and Carl Jackson brings his personality to this musical feast on the same instrument. All of it acoustic without electronic interference, which makes it even more special. Aubrey Haney on fiddle, joined by Andy Leftwich on fiddle and mandolin. Marty Stuart also adds his own personality on mandolin. Ben Isaacs on acoustic bass, how could it be any other way, or any better. Even the finesse of autoharp and hammered dulcimer is contributed by Craig Duncan. Harry Stinson on drums and a beautiful mix on vocals including Sonya and Becky Isaacs and Vince Gill, and the superb Ronnie Reno as well. Ronnie by the way has consented to allow us to put him in America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. Mac is already in it, and maybe someday Merle Haggard if I can ever get the guts to try to talk to him. This musical adventure back in time, as well as steeped in the present, could not be better named. "Timeless" is exactly what these two remarkable singers represent, as do the songs that were selected for them to perform. There is no doubt in my mind the Rural Roots Music Commission, here in the upper Midwest, would place this CD at the very top of their "True Country CD of the Year" award, but I don't know who could possibly make it to LeMars, Iowa, this year to accept it. Mac doesn't fly anymore, and the dates can be a compromise no matter how you look at it, Aug 31-Sept 6. We'll wait and see, in the meantime this incredibly beautiful CD is available at the Cracker Barrel stores across America, and that in itself is a miracle of sorts. Another story, another time. As is two old Christians. Ain't it great!
MUSIC REVIEW BY BOB EVERHART - www.ntcma.net
for Country Music News International