Merle Haggard‘s voice strains but remains resilient as he sings his final song, “Kern River Blues.”
The spirit of the Hag is still alive in this country ballad. “Kern River Blues” is a letter to his hometown, and not a love letter.
The feisty country legend shows his knack for weaving opinions on social change into song did not leave him late in life.
The arrangement is simple. A few guitars and a few horns provided a slow but reliable beat for Haggard to ride along. The focus is on his message, and his voice.
Any anger Haggard had for Bakersfield isn’t found here. It’s replaced with sadness, and a touch of contempt. Give credit to his production team for not trying to “protect” a singer past his prime with a lot of unnecessary noise. With “Kern River Blues,” some will hear a heartbreaking swan song, while others will hear just another Haggard song. Both are fine interpretations, as even though Haggard is gone, it’s important that his music never truly stops.
Did You Know?: Haggard is said to have written and recorded many songs during his final months. “Kern River Blues” was recorded on Feb. 9.