Many of the artists on this compilation make up artists from Broken Bow Records, Stoney Creek Records and Red Bow Records, all three records owned (or Co-Owned in the case of Red Bow) by Hag’s friend Benny Brown. In fact, many of these artists like Dustin Lynch, Randy Houser, Kristy Lee Cook, James Wesley and Jason Aldean are fantastic traditional Country singers an could all hold their own in the genre if songs like “Misery And Gin” and “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” and “Are The Good Times Really Over” were played on modern country radio.
Randy Houser, Joe Nichols, Thompson Square, James Wesley, Dustin Lynch, and Jason Aldean all perform two tracks each while Merle’s youngest son and look-a-like (and current lead guitarist) Ben Haggard takes the reigns of two songs as well. Toby Keith (“Carolyn”) Luke Bryan & Dierks Bentley (“Pancho & Lefty”), Jake Owen (“Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans”) Parmalee (“Workin’ Man Blues”) and Kristy Lee Cook (“Today I Started Loving You Again”) all perform a single track as does Garth Brooks who reprises his strong cover of “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” from his Walmart-exclusive Blame It All On My Roots box set. the latter song will be on Walmart-only physical CD versions.
Joe Nichols included “Footlights” on his latest album Crickets and it is included here, joining Brooks’ song as the only previously-released tracks onWorking Man’s Poet. The biggest revelations on this project, aside from Aldean’s steady traditional country takes, is how much Kristy Lee Cook actually slays “Today I Started Loving You Again” and how much Pam Tillis I hear in Thompson Square’s Shawna’s voice on both “You Take Me For Granted” and “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room.” Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley may have updated “Pancho & Lefty” enough for it to be a hit in the mainstream today but it just proves what a great song it is (as are all Townes Van Zandt songs).
There’s really nothing to dislike about Working Man’s Poet and if anyone’s a fan of Haggard they could check these songs out. Tribute albums can be tricky things but when lovingly crafted as this record was (with most of it produced by Micky Jack Cones and Derek George and executive produced by Benny Brown), it’s hard to not want to have it in your collection, especially when the track list isn’t filled with the same 20 songs that other Merle Haggard tribute albums released the past 20 years have. (Although there is some crossover on the major hits.) Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this album.