The best country album of 2014 so far this year belongs to Suzy Boggus. Lucky, her 13th album is a set of a dozen Merle Haggard tunes that smother the competition with their simplicity, deftness and dexterity. Not only that, Boggus doesn’t run from a challenge either. She didn’t cherry pick some of Haggard’s lesser known compositions or uncharted singles, no, she tackled the country icon’s biggest hits to date and few if any, fall asunder despite the lofty task.
The disc opens with Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again,” a song that has been covered by the likes of The First Edition, Bettye Swann, Charlie Feathers and more recently, Buddy Jewell. In Boggus’ version, there is a clarity in her tone, a conviction in her utterances and a sincerity in each and every word. In tackling a country music legend, you have to surrender all sense of self and become the vessel that communicates his songs. Boggus understand that perfectly and uses a spartan arrangement. Unlike the good majority of contemporary country musicians, there’s no sense of over-production, no added fluff, it’s just Boggus and a small handful of players.
Boggus makes arguably her strongest statement on the near-perfect “Silver Wings,” a soothing and supple statement that is as much a statement about restrained production as it is the ache of a broken heart. The disc picks up the tempo on the steel-guitar-and-organ-fueled “The Bottle Let Me Down,” an ageless saloon song that sounds as crystalline and focused as anything Boggus has ever released.
A rising organ returns on the slow-moving and serpentine “I Always Get Lucky With You,” a seductive and flirtatious foray into swampy harmonica, gentle acoustic guitar and the light prattle of drums. The disc’s early set concludes with the crestfallen 1973 Recession anthem “If We Make It Through December,” which receives a lively back-porch folk arrangement and has a sprite tempo not seen since “The Bottle Let Me Down.” A sentiment that continues on the playful frolic “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room,” which draws its energy from an inspired steel guitar and Bogguss’ can’t miss vocals.
Lucky's second act comes out kicking with the spitting firecracker “The Runnin’ Kind,” the languorous torch ballad “Going Where The Lonely Go” and the placidly brilliant “Someday When Things Are Good.” On the latter, Boggus puts her best foot forward and nowhere on the disc, aside from “Today I Started Loving You Again,” do her vocals sound better.
And then, Boggus kicks it up another notch by covering Haggard’s most ubiquitous tune, 1980’s “I Think I”ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” which a receives a playful and swampy arrangement that lingers long after the disc comes to an end. Ditto for Haggard’s other 1968 classic “Sing Me Back Home,” another timeless composition that would leave Haggard blushing. Boggus revisits the suppleness of “Silver Wings,” but dives deeper thanks to Pat Bergeson’s inspired slide guitar.
Boggus is no newcomer. In fact, she’s been recording music for more than four decades. But make no mistake about it, Lucky is easily her best album. Granted, there’s nothing commercial about it at all, and aside from Haggard fans and country music stalwarts, the album will probably go unnoticed. And that, fellow music listener, is a crying shame. Sure, the album is a bit too sedate and a bit too melancholy for some, but quite simply, country music doesn’t get much better than this.
To call it a triumph is putting it mildly. Lucky is a clarion call to contemporary country music, a beacon of hope that proves just how much can be accomplished with just a voice and a vision. Boggus and producer/husband Doug Crider went back to the basics, to the beginning of country music and in doing so have crafted a work that will indubitably be standing strong at year’s end. If not, longer.