With Best Troubador, Bonnie 'Prince Billy pays homage to a long-time and forever hero, the late Merle Haggard. A singer who, some 25 years previously, first performed in public by playing a Merle Haggard song, Bonny has often cited Merle's work in performance, on records and in conversation with anyone who was around, even talking to Merle himself for Filter magazine (RIP) in 2009.
Merle's body of work was considered by Bonny for a record such as this for some time, but his passing in April of 2016 almost put a stop to it. The goal was to participate in the handing forward of the songs of a living legend, as Merle had done so many times in his own career. With Merle gone, some of the impetus of the project was in peril. A plan to make the album in Nashville studios was abandoned. The songs still called to be played again, however - and so sessions were endeavored at home, capturing feeling, memory and new expression in familiar confines with the full-hearted playing and singing of the Bonafide United Musicians: Van Campbell, Nuala Kennedy, Danny Kiley, Drew Miller, Cheyenne Mize and Chris Rodahoffer, with special guests Mary Feiock, Emmett Kelly, A.J. Roach and Matt Sweeney.
The songs sung on Best Troubador are pulled from all over - from Haggard's 3rd album in 1967 though to his 47th in 2011 - but this is no simple hits compilation. Capable only of occupying a shared space between himself and Merle Haggard, Bonny chose personal favorites to find Merle and himself together in the music. Moving from 1978 to 1969 to 2003 to 1981 and so on allows the album to circle Haggard's music in a simulation of thought and memory, slipping around from spot to spot as if they were discrete impressions, unknown but knowable yet. Dedicated to new life and old, Best Troubadour is wistful and bittersweet, for the triumph of a life spent in unending pursuit of the goal: new and expressive music, as our inspirations and heroes once sang it. Celebrate as new fans and old on May 5th!