*Proper, Feb 17, 2014*
Suzy Bogguss didn’t set out to craft a Merle Haggard tribute record. Some might call that serendipity; she just calls it “lucky”. An accomplished artist and songwriter and a CMA, ACM and Grammy Award winner, Bogguss and her husband/co-producer Doug Crider were combing through songs to consider for her next project. Never one to hew to a particular style, having branched out into jazz, folk and swing sounds alongside traditional and modern country, Bogguss kept coming back to a set of songs that spoke to her…and they just happened to be by Haggard.
“He really is the poet of the common man,” says Bogguss, who kicked off her career with 1989’s “Somewhere Between,” her debut album named after one of Haggard’s early songs. “Not every artist has music that is as universal as Merle’s. It’s pretty heavy-duty stuff, and I think that’s why to so many of us who sing and write songs, he’s such a king among us. When I hear his songs, I feel like I’m listening in on someone’s life.” And Lucky she makes the country rebel’s compositions her own, reinterpreting classics like “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Silver Wings” and “Today I Started Loving You Again” from a female point of view.
Suzy Bogguss, an Illinois native and one of country music’s most pristine and evocative vocalists, made her major label debut in 1989. She quickly became one of the key artists that defined those golden days of ’90s country. She scored a string of Top 10 singles with country radio staples like “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South,” “Hey Cinderella,” “Letting Go” and “Aces,” and her 1991 album of that name was certified platinum. In addition, she scored a trio of gold albums and notched more than 3 million sales.
With Lucky the singer comes full circle: “My very first song on the radio was by Merle” But the new CD is not a tribute album. Of that, Suzy is adamant. “I don’t want it to be viewed that way. I had been wanting to make a record based in country and blues and I just kept thinking of great Haggard songs, so it just made sense to quit denying that what I really wanted was to sing an entire album of his songs! I have always looked to great singer/songwriters for material outside of my own. These songs are perfect for me at this time in my life.
“I didn’t try to imitate Merle, this is my interpretation of his songs,” she continues. “Besides, Merle is still doing his own thing. He’s hard at work, and people are still lining up around the block to see him.”
Lucky is remarkable in its freshness. Its acoustic-based arrangements, while sparse, crackle with vibrancy. Each song is driven by the perfect marriage of Suzy’s delicate voice and the adventurous, yet tasteful, playing of the band.
“Merle would experiment. He would take his band The Strangers into the studio and they’d be pioneers,” Suzy says. “Each one of Merle’s records sounds fresh and you hear that in these different songs we chose. I really miss that fearlessness today.”
Suzy followed suit. Assembling her own ace band at her home studio-along with an A-team of singer-songwriters, including Jessi Alexander, Matraca Berg, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Gretchen Peters and Jon Randall Stewart, to lend background vocals-she cut a dozen Haggard tunes. They range from the boozy lament “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and the raunchy “Let’s Chase Each Other Round the Room” to the sombre one-two punch of “You Don’t Have Very Far to Go” and “Someday When Things Are Good.”
“Merle’s songs were on the 8-track player in my dad’s car. Saturday nights when I would drive around with my friends, this was a part of our soundtrack. Back when country music talked about real adult problems and how we deal with them. We felt like we were eavesdropping on the secret lives of our parents,” Suzy says. “Merle’s songs feel familiar… and slightly dangerous.
Throughout Lucky, Suzy’s bohemian spirit-for nearly five years, she lived in and traveled the country by camper-is palpable. In “Silver Wings,” she delivers an almost cinematic vocal. “There’s a movie playing in my head when I sing that song,” Suzy admits. “And in many of his songs.”
“What I really wanted to illuminate is not only is this guy awesome to see live and awesome to listen to on his records, but his songs are very relatable for somebody else to communicate to other people,” Suzy says. “Not every artist has music that is as universal as Merle’s”.