by Dustin Walsh
First off, this isn't a bluegrass record in the traditional sense of the form. No heel-kickin', white lighting-soaked romps here — just soulful, sad pickers that feature mountain country instrumentation. The Hag makes no attempts to hit the high notes or speed up the licks. No, The Bluegrass Sessions simply remains calm and comfortable throughout, with Marty Stuart's twangy mandolin basically setting the pace.
The album finds Haggard revisiting and reinventing some of his old classics, like "Mama's Hungry Eyes," "Big City" and "Holding Things Together." While these reworkings are inspired, they'll never trump the originals. The real gems here are the Hag original "Learning to Live with Myself" and a cover of the Delmore Bothers' "Blues Stay Away from Me." The former finds the once locked-up singer reflecting on decades spent in the California penal system. But it's "Jimmie Rogers Blues," a medley of the father of country music's classics that basically encapsulates the album as a whole — a venture into the historic South and a lesson in front-porch blues. Produced by old Haggard colleague and bluegrass legend Ronnie Reno, The Bluegrass Sessions may not be true bluegrass, but it's old-timey for sure. And the inclusion of music great Stuart (responsible for last year's final release by the late Porter Waggoner) ensures that this 40-year veteran can still produce a relevant record.
Editor's Note: This week, we're cleaning out the closets, so to speak, and reviewing a bunch of worthy releases that fell between the cracks in '07.