Alternative folk singer-songwriter Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy pays homage to the late, great Merle Haggard, in his new album Best Troubador. It’s fantastic to see when an artist acknowledges another artist as an influence and honor his or her work, and even better so when the artists are Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Merle Haggard. Billy had first performed in public by covering a Merle Haggard song, and has often cited Merle’s work in performance, on records and in conversation with anyone who was around, even Merle himself.
Billy had considered the idea of a Haggard cover album for a long time, but Haggard’s death in April of 2016 almost put a stop to the project. With Merle passed, some of the impetus of the project was in peril. A plan to make the album in Nashville studios was abandoned. The songs still called to be played again, however – and so sessions were endeavored at home, capturing feeling, memory and new expression in familiar confines with the full-hearted playing and singing of the Bonafide United Musicians: Van Campbell, Nuala Kennedy, Danny Kiley, Drew Miller, Cheyenne Mize and Chris Rodahoffer, with special guests Mary Feiock, Emmett Kelly, A.J. Roach and Matt Sweeney.
The songs covered on Best Troubador come from all across Haggard’s extensive discography. From his 3rd album in 1967 to his 47th in 2011, the songs were chosen personally by Bonnie to find Merle and himself together in the music. Moving from 1978 to 1969 to 2003 to 1981 and son allows the album to circle Haggard’s music in a simulation of thought and memory, slipping around from spot to spot as if they were discrete impressions, unknown but knowable yet. Dedicated to new life and old, Best Troubador is wistful and bittersweet, for the triumph of a life spent in unending pursuit of the goal: new and expressive music, as our inspirations and heroes once sang it.
Exploring the concept of bringing the old into a modern age, Billy is joined by frequent collaborator Oscar Parsons to create a music video for a cover of Merle Haggard’s classic 1968 cut “Mama Tried,” presented in 360 degrees of glorious virtual reality. Headset viewing will only be available on the Vimeo app on a smartphone, but monoscopic 360 degree playback can occur on site or embedded for desktop browsers and android mobile browsers.
Best Troubador will be seeing a May 5th release. Check out the music video, album cover and track list below.
Best Troubador Tracklist
01. The Fugitive
02. I’m Always on a Mountain When I Fall
03. The Day the Rains Came
04. Haggard (Like I’ve Never Been Before)
05. I Always Get Lucky With You
07. My Old Pal
08. Roses in the Winter
09. Some of Us Fly
10. Wouldn’t That Be Something
12. That’s the Way Love Goes
13. Nobody’s Darling
14. What I Hate (excerpt)
15. I Am What I Am
16. If I Could Only Fly