George Jones & Merle Haggard

Kickin' Out the Footlights... Again

Certainly the more cynical among us could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the rather novel notion of country music's two greatest surviving legends — the seventysomething Merle Haggard and George Jones — trudging into the studio to take on some of the other's classics. And there are, indeed, times when it at least seems like Jones (the elder of the pair) can't get his vocals into high gear.

But blessed with an all-star backup band that includes pedal-steel guitar whiz Norm Hamlet, pianist Pig Robbins and Keith Stegall behind the control board, Haggard and Jones pull out their greatest weapon: familiarity. Haggard makes Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care" sound almost too easy to sing, while Jones' weather-worn vocals actually serve him perfectly in the death-row lament "Sing Me Back Home" with its sense of mortality.

Kickin' Out the Footlights ... Again doesn't burn with the audacity of Jerry Lee Lewis' recent reworking of rock classics on Last Man Standing but shows there's plenty still left in the tank with these two giants. 3 stars.