Suzy Bogguss - Lucky
I make it an unwritten rule never to read a press release prior to hearing a new album. I’d played this latest Suzy Bogguss album probably 20 times before I even thought about the press release. A collection of a dozen Merle Haggard songs that I really enjoyed by one of my favourite female singers what more was there to know? Songs like Silver Wings, The Bottle Let Me Down and The Running Kind, I’ve lived with for more than 45 years. They are as familiar as some of my oldest and best friends. Surely I know them inside out. But the more I listened to Suzy’s interpretations of these songs, the more I heard things in them I’d not noticed before. She was offering me different meanings to songs that I believed I really knew and I started seeing the lyrics in a different light. Intrigued, I picked up the press release and read Suzy’s personal take on each of the songs, and slowly I understood. Also I discovered a new word: ‘de-Merle-ify.’ I love it. For someone like me, who cannot see the point of any act just performing a carbon copy of a well-known song, Suzy’s approach to this album is not just refreshing, it’s bold, inventive and totally successful. From stunning opener Today I Started Loving You Again to closer You Don’t Have Very Far To Go, she has ‘de-Merle-ified’ these dozen Merle Haggard songs and made them very much her own. That’s no mean feat for any singer, especially so when it comes to the songs of a singer and writer of the legendary stature of someone like Merle Haggard.
The first thing that Suzy did was to take Merle’s band the Strangers out of the equation. Anyone who has followed the Hag’s career, knows only too well that his road band, some of whom have been with him for more than 45 years, is an integral part of his sound. Suzy demonstrated her intention with the haunting organ opening to Today I Started Loving You Again. Further emphasis came with the acoustic guitar interplay that is as inspired as Suzy’s vocals are intimate and impassioned. I felt like I was hearing a brand new song not an old favourite from my younger days. That acoustic guitar strumming led neatly into Silver Wings with an evocative harmonica adding to the smooth and calm arrangement, along with Suzy’s soothing voice to make for a wonderfully relaxing listening experience. So how would she fare with a barroom honky-tonker? Well, again Suzy takes her own trip through those old swinging doors with her easy-going bluesy rendition of The Bottle Let Me Down. Stuttering guitar and late-night organ back her feisty delivery with Jon Randall Stewart and wife Jessi Alexander coming in with on-the-mark barroom harmonies.
This is just the first three tracks, and the whole album continues at a similarly high quality of originality in the musical arrangements and Suzy’s distinctive and varied vocal approach that ranges from gentle swing to intimate crooning to bluesy undertones. As a long-time, die-hard Hag fan of more years standing than I’d really care to remember, I can only urge you to seek out this incredibly impressive album. That Suzy Bogguss had to use Kickstarter to get this album out there speaks volumes about the poor state of the major record companies and the depths to which they have plumbed in 2014. This release should have been at the very top of at least one of major labels’ January release schedule. It should be up for a CMA Album of the Year and a Grammy award to boot. But sadly, too many of the label executives have lost their musical way just to hold on to their precious jobs. We need a lot more Hag integrity and a lot less Aldean rock is all I can say.