recordings like “Branded Man,” “SingrnMe Back Home,” and “Mama Tried.”rnThese songs convey empathy for the exconvictrnwho is “branded with a numberrnon my name,” or for the condemnedrnman led “down the hallway to hisrndoom,” without attempting to absolvernhim of his ultimate responsibility for hisrnacts: “Mama tried to raise me better, butrnher pleading I denied / That leaves onlyrnme to blame ’cause Mama tried.”rnHaggard has referred to his musicalrnstyle as “country jazz,” and it can indeedrnsometimes sound more jazz than country.rnHis bluesy renditions of “Lonelinessrnis Eating Me Alive” and “Trouble InrnMind” have more in common with thernsounds of black performers like CharlesrnBrown or T-Bone Walker than withrnGeorge Jones. But he respects traditionalrncountry sounds. His music is strongrnon traditional elements like the fiddlernand steel guitar. Even when the fiddlesrnmelt into “strings” on Haggard’s versionsrnof “Carolyn” and “Misery and Gin,” therncountry flavor is maintained largely onrnthe strength of Haggard’s voice and thernsubject matter (cheatin’ and drinkin’).rnThe signature song of Haggard’s careerrnis the 1969 classic, “Okie FromrnMuskogee.” Its inflammatory lyrics provokedrna controversy and a lingering debaternover how seriously its message wasrnintended to be taken. Lines such asrn”Leather boots are still in style for manlyrnfootwear” are difficult to hear todayrnwhile maintaining a straight face, but itrnmatters little if the song was recordedrnwith tongue in cheek. It was not receivedrnthat way, either by rednecks orrnhippies.rn”Okie From Muskogee” is only one ofrnHaggard’s excursions into the CulturernFor Immediate ServicernCHRONICLESrnNEW SUBSCRIBERSrnTOLL-FREE NUMBERrn1-800-877-5459rnWar featured on Down Every Road.rn”Workin’ Man Blues,” “Fightin’ Side ofrnMe,” and “Are the Good Times ReallyrnOver (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)”rnare also included. In the last song, Haggardrnrecalls his fond memories of therndays “before microwave ovens, when arngirl could still cook, and still would.”rnThe apparent jingoism of songs likern”Fightin’ Side of Me” is probably whatrnmoved California Governor RonaldrnReagan to grant Haggard a pardon inrn1972. But the totality of his recordedrnwork provides little succor to the band ofrnWilsonian universalists, subsidizedrnmoralists, and economic deterministsrnwho make up the respectable right.rnVirtue czar Bill Bennett would collapsernwith the vapors from Haggard lyricsrnabout “bummin’ round Chicago in thernafternoon,” or “Living With the ShadesrnPulled Down.” Haggard’s many songsrnabout economic hardship, especially “IfrnWe Make It Through December,” arernnot consistent with the banal supply-sidernoptimism of the Republican Party orrnwith the wonders of a global economy inrnwhich any corporation may move yourrnjob out of the country, leaving you to explainrnwhy “daddy can’t afford no Christmasrnhere.” And Haggard’s recent appearancernon the cover of Hemp Times,rnwhere he vented his anger about our lossrnof constitutional rights and environmentalrndestruction in the Southwest, will furtherrncomplicate anyone’s efforts to putrnhim in a neat ideological box.rnFortunately, Merle Haggard did notrnbecome a p.r. flack for the HeritagernFoundation or a syndicated columnist.rnHe has devoted most of his material torntime-honored themes of country music,rnincluding the widespread fantasy (at leastrnamong men) of dropping out and hittingrnthe road, or simply, “ramblin’.” It is notrnsurprising that a man who wasted a goodrnportion of his youth in jail and reformrnschool devotes a number of songs to therntheme of escape. It is occasionally compelledrnby the need to flee the law, as inrnhis cover of “The Fugitive” and in thernobscure “Huntsville.” In the latter. Haggardrnnarrates the chilling tale of a convictrnwho is “bringin’ in a load of time.” Herndoes not moralize about the crimes ofrnthe song’s narrator. Instead, he tells thernstory of a man with nothing left to lose:rnThey got me chained in leg ironsrnI guess they got a good excusernThey know I’m gonna run the firstrnchance I getrnCause they’re never gonna setrnme loose.rnAnd I really don’t care if they shootrnme down,rnI’ll never be free againrnI got two long life terms to dornboth running end on endrnIt ain’t so far to Mexico that I can’trnfind my wayrnThey’re takin’ me down tornHuntsville,rnbut I’m not gonna stay.rnOne of Haggard’s strengths is his versatilityrnas a songwriter. He has writtenrnbrooding ballads about the lives of prisonersrnand hobos that are worthy of thernlofty title “folk music,” and he has drawnrnupon his personal experience to great effect.rnBut his ability to give new life to familiarrnthemes and images should not bernoverlooked. Probably a million countryrnsongs have prominently featured a jukebox,rnbut in “Someone Told My Story”rnthe narrator drops his dime only to hearrnhis own story being told: “The writer .. .rntold of swingin’ doors and a jukebox, andrnhe even knew I almost lost my mind.” Inrnan added twist, the song on the jukeboxrn—”Swinging Doors” —is also byrnHaggard. Likewise, there have been arnmultitude of songs about lost love, but inrn”I’m Looking for My Mind,” the narratorrnis not worried about his broken heart.rnHe tells his ex that “I lost my mind thernday I lost your love / I’m not crazy butrnsometimes I wish I was / If you turnrnaround and see me crawling close behindrn/ It’s not you I want, I’m looking forrnmy mind.”rnDown Every Road could not havernbeen released at a better time. Countryrnmusic is in a time of crisis. More popularrnthan ever, it is also becoming homogenizedrnand losing its regional character.rnCountry threatens to become the soundtrackrnof the global economy. This phenomenon,rnin fact, was the subject of anrnapproving cover story in the New Republic,rncomplete with quotations from insipidrnlyrics of angst-ridden suburbanitesrnlike Mary-Chapin Carpenter and GarthrnBrooks. While Haggard cut his teeth imitatingrnLefty Frizzell and recorded tiibuternalbums to Jimmy Rodgers and BobrnWills, Garth Brooks owes more to the influencernof Billy Joel. Although Brooksrn(unlike Haggard) actually hails from Oklahoma,rnthe New Republic notes that therndistinguishing feature of his Tulsa is thatrnit is “the most demographically ‘typical’rncity in America.” Nobody could everrn46/CHRONICLESrnrnrn