A coun­try com­fort warmly ev­i­dent with Nel­son and Hag­gard

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fun to hang out and make mu­sic with Merle. He’s al­ways been one of my fa­vorite singers.”

That’s the mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion so­ci­ety at work on a high level, given both men are widely re­garded as two of the great­est liv­ing coun­try song­writ­ers, whose mu­sic has shaped the sound of the genre for six decades.

Back when Ab­bott, Texas-born Nel­son was strug­gling to fit into the Nashville coun­try mu­sic es­tab­lish­ment of the 1960s, Bak­ers­field na­tive Hag­gard and other West Coast mav­er­icks were cre­at­ing a live­lier coun­ter­part to the smooth, ur­bane sounds that Mu­sic City fa­vored at the time. That slick­ness drove Nel­son and fel­low Texan Way­lon Jen­nings back to the Lone Star State to do things their way, launch­ing the out­law move­ment of the ’70s.

“I think ‘Okie From Musko­gee’ might have been the first one I heard him singing,” Nel­son said in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view as he was get­ting rolling on a new tour. “I was re­ally lik­ing what I was hear­ing with Merle, Buck [Owens] and those other guys from Bak­ers­field. They had a sound of their own and made a great im­pres­sion on coun­try mu­sic.”

Like­wise, Hag­gard is a life­long ad­mirer of Nel­son’s song­writ­ing, which he said played into the ma­te­rial they chose to work on to­gether for “Django and Jim­mie.”

“Wil­lie’s a great song­writer, and he fig­ures that I’m a great song­writer,” Hag­gard said, “so we’re not go­ing to play any­thing for each other that’s not pretty good.”

The al­bum strikes a bal­ance with a few new songs, in­clud­ing Hag­gard’s “The Only Man Wilder Than Me” and “Miss­ing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” an hon­est but un­sen­ti­men­tal ode to their mu­tual friend.

The record also in­cludes three Nel­son-Buddy Can­non com­po­si­tions and a few well-cho­sen chest­nuts from each other’s deep cat­a­logs: Nel­son’s “Fam­ily Bi­ble,” Hag­gard’s “Swing­ing Doors” and “Some­where Between.”

Mostly, it’s the spirit in their voices that reg­is­ters on their third al­bum to­gether, dat­ing to 1983’s “Pan­cho & Lefty.” Col­lec­tively they’re singing with more than a cen­tury and a half worth of hard-won ex­pe­ri­ence.

“On my [2012] duets al­bum ‘To All the Girls…’ I’d recorded ‘ Some­where Between’ with Loretta Lynn be­fore I re­al­ized Merle had writ­ten it,” said Nel­son, who in May pub­lished his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “It’s a Long Story: My Life,” which he wrote with David Ritz. “So we thought we should do that to­gether. He wanted to do ‘Fam­ily Bi­ble,’ which I wrote 50 years ago, and I thought that was great.”

The ti­tle track comes across as deeply au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, but it was writ­ten by Nashville song­writ­ers Jeff Price and Jimmy Mel­ton — with Nel­son and Hag­gard in mind.

“They have both been my mu­si­cal he­roes since I was around 12 years old,” Price told The Times. “I’ve been writ­ing songs in Nashville for 25 years, and this cut is a life­time mu­si­cal dream come true.”

The song al­lows Nel­son and Hag­gard to salute two in­no­va­tors who were ma­jor inf lu­ences: Gypsy jazz gui­tarist Django Rein­hardt and the man known as the “Father of Coun­try Mu­sic,” Jim­mie Rodgers.

The cho­rus ac­knowl­edges their ad­mi­ra­tion for other key mu­si­cal fig­ures, in­clud­ing Hank Wil­liams, Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb and Cash, but con­cludes that “there might not have been a Merle or a Wil­lie, if not for Django and Jim­mie.”

“It’s a nat­u­ral for me and Merle,” Nel­son said. “He’s a huge Jim­mie Rodgers fans — so am I — and Django is my all-time fa­vorite gui­tar player…. When I first heard him, I re­al­ized I had re­ally been in­flu­enced by his mu­sic for a long time.

“I had been into Bob Wills a lot, and in a lot of his songs I could hear Django’s style, and that made me re­al­ize a lot of us mu­si­cians went back to Django,” he said.

Added Hag­gard: “He [Rein­hardt] was ev­ery­thing on the gui­tar that Jim­mie Rodgers was with the vo­cals, and that song ‘Django and Jim­mie’ is re­ally a clas­sic, I think.”

As for sync­ing up har­monies be­tween two of the most idio­syn­cratic singers in all of pop mu­sic, Hag­gard shrugged off any per­ceived chal­lenges.

“He’s easy to work with,” he said. “It may seem [dif­fi­cult to track Nel­son], but I’ve stud­ied him, and he re­ally has a path, and he knows which side of the beat he’s go­ing to land on. Once you re­al­ize what he’s do­ing, and he does it twice, you know where he’s go­ing.

“Some of the places where he comes in ahead of the beat, you just leave that alone, let him do that. You don’t try to put a har­mony over it. That’s just Wil­lie.”

Danny Clinch Le­gacy Record­ings

OUT­LAW COUN­TRY pi­o­neers Merle Hag­gard, left, and Wil­lie Nel­son mix it up.

As­so­ci­ated Press

THE NEW AL­BUM is an ode to Rein­hardt, Rodgers.

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