Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Holding Things Together: The Merle Haggard Songbook [Ace, 2019]
He was such a writer that there are few forgettables on this tribute album, including Roy Rogers getting "Okie From Muskogee" so wrong it becomes a piece of history and Barrence Whitfield staking his claim to the doomed interracial love of "Irma Jackson"--followed, shrewdly, by Bettye Swann's less racially specific but equally apropos "Just Because You Can't Be Mine." And for me the last seven tracks are climactic, starting with the Everly Brothers' disconcertingly sweet, meticulously pained "Sing Me Back Home," Elvin Bishop's jovially lachrymose "I Can't Keep Myself in Line," Country Joe McDonald's righteously sarcastic "Rainbow Stew," and George Thorogood's unapologetically horny "Living With the Shades Pulled Down." But best of all is a title song that's one of several I didn't recall at all. The vocalist? Merle Haggard, naturally. A-