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CD Review: Merle Haggard's I Am What I Am 

The Deal: Country singer Merle Haggard keeps getting better.

The Good: You could call this one, "The best of Merle Haggard." Although I Am What I Am isn't a greatest hits collection, any cut could qualify as one. Hag's 72-year-old voice has never sounded better. On "Pretty When It's New," he sounds like a crooner half his age. Unlike his last, 2007's The Bluegrass Sessions, there are no guest stars here with the exception of his wife, Theresa, on "Live and Love Always." Hag's band, The Strangers, are the stars of this one, laying down a smooth western swing background for Merle on most cuts. But for all his smoothness here, Haggard's no softie. He won't let you forget that he's still a hellraiser. And even though he proclaims on the title cut that he's no longer a fugitive and no longer on the lam, he's still a rounder – "I do what I do/cause I do give a damn," he explains. "I'm not a tramp/I'm not a drifter/I am what I am."

The Bad: That he won't always be with us. A brush with cancer in '08 cost him half of his right lung, but he says they got it all. Let's hope he's right and that he'll be around to do an upcoming project with Loretta Lynn as well as continue to give us chills with his magnificent voice.

The Verdict: He's still the best damn country singer in the business.

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