A life-long Merle Haggard fan, Will Oldham has apparently long considered recording an album of Haggard songs and in the wake of his death last April he’s done just that. He hasn’t gone straight for the hits though, he’s hen-picked from 44 years of recorded songs, choosing personal favourites in honour of the great songwriter.
Best Troubador is an intimate album, recorded at home, with a relaxed and communal feel. Gathering a group of musicians under the name Bonafide United Musicians as well as regular collaborators Matt Sweeney and Emmett Kelly, Oldham has recorded a heartfelt tribute to the man and his songs. It certainly succeeds as a musical love letter, full of gentle twists and turns and accompanied by mournful horns and atmospheric pedal steel alongside traditional guitars. That gives the focus to the lyrics, which, from Oldham’s throat, take on a strong sense of vulnerability and poetic grace. Not all the songs are Haggard compositions. Oldham leaves us with a lo-fi recording of Blaze Foley’s ‘If I Could Only Fly’, the title track to Haggard’s 2000 album.
This feels like more than a traditional covers album; it’s restrained and respectful, a devotional farewell from one singer/songwriter to another.