We gave it an A-
Do not mistake Haggard Like Never Before — a deceptively jaunty, brief (a tad over half an hour) album — as minor Merle Haggard. While the title song invites you to apply the pun of his surname to his aging musical prowess, the music refutes his joshing. There’s a lotta spunk in the old coot: Beyond the typically anti-media, anti-Iraq-war-policy politics behind the single ”That’s the News,” ”Never Before” has a fun novelty song (”Garbage Man”), a great ballad (”The Downside”), and a beautiful ballad (”Because of Your Eyes”). And, except for the novelty number, he wrote all those, and he sings them in a voice that, impossibly, has grown smoother and more flexible with age.