Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard Stand the Test of Time

Cash: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johnny_Cash_%281964%29.png">Billboard</a>/Wikimedia Commons; Haggard: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Merle_Haggard_in_concert_2013.jpg">Jeremy Luke Roberts</a>/Wikimedia Commons

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Merle Haggard
Okie from Muskogee 45th Anniversary Edition
Capitol Nashville

Johnny Cash
Out Among the Stars
Columbia/Legacy

Merle Haggard album

Great singers sound better with time, regardless of genre, and country icons Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard hold up especially well, which makes these two vault-scouring projects noteworthy. Still, more than four decades on, it’s impossible not to cringe at the small-minded, hippie-baiting sentiments of Haggard’s signature hit, “Okie from Muskogee,” but look past that unfortunate episode and rewards aplenty await on his reissue. (If it helps, Haggard later tried to distance himself from the song and embraced a more nuanced form of populism.)

Captured in his prime, Hag is a magnificent singer, boasting a rich, supple and stirring voice that could embrace western swing, honky-tonk and softer, nearly countrypolitan sounds with equal expressiveness, while his nimble band never loses the groove. This ’69 live set—which sounds like it’s been “enhanced” by extra overdubbed audience noise—includes some of Haggard’s most soulful efforts, including “Mama Tried,” “White Line Fever,” and “Sing Me Back Home.” The second disc offers another, less-successful live outing, “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” intended to capitalize on the higher profile generated by “Okie from Muskogee” the year before.

Johnny Cash album

As for the man in black, Out Among the Stars, a collection of previously unreleased recordings from ’81 and ’84, finds craggy-voiced Johnny Cash on the verge of separating from Columbia Records, his longtime home, and entering a period of artistic uncertainty that would end in the ’90s with the career-reviving intervention of producer Rick Rubin. If the songs don’t add up to a coherent album, there are still moments that entice, among them the heartbroken “She Used to Love Me a Lot,” a rollicking duet with Waylon Jennings on Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” (also covered on Haggard’s set), and “I Came to Believe,” a moving statement of faith. Among the musicians recently recruited to fill out some of the originally uncompleted tracks are Buddy Miller and Cash’s stepdaughter, Carlene Carter, who returns with an excellent new album of her own next week.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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