One of the most poised and assured female country singers of the late '80s and 1990s, Suzy Bogguss had her turn on the major-label carousel, scoring her first radio hit with a cover of Merle Haggard's "Somewhere Between" in 1987, then really hit big with several chart hits in the '90s, including "Outbound Plane," "Drive South," "Hey Cinderella," "Letting Go," and "Aces," all released by Capitol Records. But Bogguss was always a traditional country artist at heart, and the increasing pop and rock elements necessary for continued commercial country radio airplay as the 21st century approached weren't suited for her interest and strengths, or she chose not to let them be, and she parted ways with Capitol in 1998. Whether leaving a major label is a blessing or a curse depends on one's goals and one's point of view, but in Bogguss' case, it freed the way for her to make an album years later like Lucky, which is her warm, muted, and at times exceedingly beautiful tribute to the songwriting genius of Merle Haggard. Nothing about the album, which was produced by Bogguss and her longtime husband and collaborator Doug Crider, is hurried or forced, and the mostly acoustic arrangements (with lovingly and appropriately added steel guitar and organ touches) allow Bogguss to let each song breathe and unwind in a natural, easy-flowing manner, and truthfully, this is almost as much a folk record as a country one in sound and feel. There are magnificent songs here, songs that are true classics in the country canon like "Today I Started Loving You Again," "Silver Wings," "If We Make It Through December," and "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," each of which gain additional breadth and depth in Bogguss' renderings, which flip things to a female perspective in the songs without losing one ounce of the grace, desperation, and redemption of Haggard's original versions. Bogguss has been quick to say that this is not a tribute album, but of course it is, both to the power and rough-edged beauty of Haggard's songwriting, and to Bogguss' creative and spiritual affinity to singing those songs. It's a match made in Honky Tonk Heaven, actually, although don't expect to hear any of these tracks on contemporary country radio. ~ Steve Leggett
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