There’s a lot of new ground being broken in what we used to call country music. Lately I’ve been listening to Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell mine that primal place where voice and longing collide. I’m impressed they’ve found something fresh and contemporary in the form; it’s no longer necessary to be a hillbilly (or a denizen of a red state) to appreciate their innovative take on what us Motown cats once called “twang.”
So it’s a good time to nod to their antecedents, especially with the passing of Merle Haggard. The vanguard owes this titan (and his contemporaries, men like Johnny Cash and Porter Waggoner) a tremendous debt.