"From my checkered past I can always bring back the memories we felt in that home by the track," signs Merle Haggard in "Oil Tanker Train." At 73 years young, Merle is entitled to take a look back, as he does often on his new CD, I Am What I Am. The record is something of a family affair, featuring appearances from his wife Theresa, and their son Ben, in addition to his backing band, The Strangers.
I Am What I Am opens up with "I've Seen It Go Away," an instant classic with some great dobro playing from Rob Ikes. On this song, Haggard talks about seeing many things in his lifetime, including Elvis and Bob Wills. The King of Western Swing (Wills) comes in for specific tribute during "The Road To My Heart," which features Hag imitating some of Bob's trademark wisecracks during the solo sections.
"Mexican Bands" is another tribute, sort of — this time to Johnny Cash. When Merle was incarcerated at San Quentin, he saw Cash perform there three times. The exposure galvanized him to quit his life of crime and concentrate on music when he was released. The horns Cash used on "Ring Of Fire" inform the instrumental section of "Mexican Bands."
I Am What I Am features a number of love songs, including ""We're Falling In Love Again," "Pretty When It's New," and "How Did You Find Me Here" (cowritten with Theresa). The most poignant lyric is contained in the title track, which closes out the record.
The first lines of "I Am What I Am" are: "I'm no longer a fugitive," sung with the deeply satisfied voice of a man who no longer has anything left to prove. The song and album speak to the contented life this legendary singer now knows, and that is a very good thing.