Merle Haggard, ‘I Am What I Am’ (Vanguard)
With Cash gone and Willie spent, hopes hang on Hag to deliver classic country, musically and poetically. And he doesn’t disappoint, from the dobro-heavy “I’ve Seen It Go Away,” a heartbreaker about American greatness lost, to the lovely Bob Wills swing of “The Road to My Heart.” There’s even an ode to an “Oil Tanker Train,” which “rattled the boxcar” once housing the Haggard family. His lead guitar forever flinty, his baritone beautifully distressed, the man has made a masterpiece. Country radio? Don’t count on it.