Roots, Vol. 1

From the opening pedal steel chord and accompanying Haggard croon, it’s clear this album is something special. Enjoying rejuvenated interest stemming from his last critically acclaimed release, the Northstate-based Haggard is now a living legend to the younger, alt country movement. This latest album continues his hot streak with an expert nod to the past, embodying vintage honky-tonk with newfound vigor and charm.

Stunned to learn that his idol Lefty Frizzell’s original guitarist, Norman Stephens, lived nearby, the Hag called him up, and in two days they were recording this enjoyable album of nine old-school Western swing/honky-tonk classics (plus three Hag originals: “Tender Heart,” “Runaway Mama” and “More Than My Old Guitar"). Twin guitars dance along with piano and fiddles, and the Hag’s voice sounds eerily rejuvenated, as if he were 30 years younger. Featuring catchy singalongs like “Always Late (With Your Kisses),” “Look What Thoughts Will Do” and Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life,” the album also features great production sound—recorded in the Hag’s home, in a wood paneled room ("with a funny shaped roof") that leaves the acoustic sound stripped down and personal. Steel man Norm Hamlet, pianist Doug Colosio and fiddler-mandolinist Abe Manuel Jr. (collectively known as the Strangers) lay down the background in flawless fashion, allowing Hag to shine in this, his obvious labor of love.

This is probably the best thing I’ve ever heard from the accomplished country legend (of course I haven’t heard a tenth of his 70-plus albums). It should bring even more fans to the fold when released in November.