Am I a redneck? I’m not too up on the nuances of stereotyping and my aim seems to be a little off, but I’ve always considered myself a bit too much of a cultured individual to merely succumb to the lures of ratty pick-up trucks and floppy-eared doggies. As my life changed over the years, however, I learned that I actually hated the city. Maybe I hated the people. Dunno. But I still hated country music.
That’s why the unapologetic drawl of Bryan and the Haggards‘ Pretend It’s the End of the World hit my universe hard. Here, spinning through the speakers of my rural home, came the exuberant notes of “New York’s most decorated avant-country instrumental Merle Haggard cover band.”
Merle Haggard? Merle Haggard.
I was never too up on Haggard, even if he was an outlaw of sorts. I dug that he worked the most unpolished end of things, sure, and his creation of the Bakersfield sound was always something that I took too more than I did the pristine and boring Nashville sound. But I never bothered much either way, preferring to sink myself into music that I actually, you know, enjoyed.
Bryan and the Haggards clearly dig Merle Haggard. It should be noted that the quintet on Pretend is the same quintet known as Big V Chord. Under the leadership of guitarist Jon Lundbom, Big V Chord has three albums to their credit. A two year hiatus produced Bryan and the Haggards, a slightly fiddled-with incarnation of the quintet with tenor saxophonist Bryan Murray serving as the leader.
And so, Merle Haggard.
Lundbom’s love for Haggard comes across with every scattered, messy path he blazes. Murray, too, proves his mettle as the leader of the group by wailing and wailing and wailing away like a moonshined cowpoke looking for invisible gold. This is jazz with twang – can I call it “twazz?” – and the innovation is hard to ignore.
Loaded with dissonant tones and some downright ugly tempo, Pretend It’s the End of the World is like one of those hideous dogs you can’t help but love. Bryan and the Haggards commit fully to the art of country-jazz (or is it jazz-country?) and cascade from two-beat grooves to noisy chaos with glorious ease.
Haggard tunes like “Lonesome Fugitive” and “Silver Wings” get the full treatment. The band even lets bassist Moppa Elliot out of his cage on “All of Me Belongs to You,” a treat for Bob Wills.
Am I a redneck? Who the hell knows? Who the hell cares? Sitting with my face to the sun and my eyes on a floppy-eared doggy that wanders on the property from time to time, I can’t help but grin like a big damn idiot. Pretend It’s the End of the World shows us that some things, like Haggard’s outlaw charm, defy stereotypes.
Article originally published as I Hear Sparks: Bryan and the Haggards – Pretend It’s the End of the World on Blogcritics.org