In Brief : *** Merle Haggard, "1996," Curb.

Free-flowing reflection permeates the key moments here as Haggard looks back--with anger, with regret, even with humor. "Beer Can Hill," a sweet paean to Bakersfield, gets vocal help from Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. The two knockouts are his quietly stunning version of Iris DeMent's "No Time to Cry" and his ecologically minded duet with John Anderson, "Winds of Change."

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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