Picks and Pans Review: A Friend in California

updated 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

Merle Haggard

Haggard certainly doesn't have to prove anything as a country singer. Indeed, he sometimes seems to be not proving it a little too well, so casual does his style occasionally sound these days. There's almost a perfunctory mood on a couple of tracks on this LP—I Had a Beautiful Time, for one. And while it's always fun when he gives some space to his Western swing-oriented band, particularly horn man Don Markham, there's more of the band and less of Merle than some of his fans might expect at times. But when Haggard puts even a little heart into his singing, there's nobody better. Floyd Tillman's This Cold War With You and This Song Is for You, by Freddy and Mary Lou Powers, demonstrate how musically pure and ingratiating he can sound when he's motivated. Listening to this album, though, is like talking to someone who seems to be having a hard time concentrating. It makes you want to say, "Hey, Merle. We're here, buddy. We're listening." (Epic)

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