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Merle Haggard

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on their quietly subversive new album

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on their quietly subversive new album

It didn’t come as a huge surprise when Tim McGraw broke from his regular set list on a recent evening at the Rabobank Arena here to sing a couple of old classics by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.

The two late legends put this dusty oil town on country music’s map, so pulling out “Act Naturally” and “Mama Tried” — well, that was a surefire way to win over the thousands of Bakersfield fans who’d come to see McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill, on what the couple call their Soul2Soul tour.

More unexpected was Hill’s decision to mash up her song “Free,” about defeating self-doubt, with “Freedom,” the black-pride anthem by Beyoncé, who just a year ago sparked outrage among some...

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