Chris Robinson @crmusicwriter

mostly music, sometimes books


Um, It’s Because It’s Fun, aka Why Bryan and the Haggards are my new Favorite Band

Last year I was at a performance/master class that the Hal Galper Trio

stay tuned for my upcoming review of their latest CD in a forthcoming issue of Downbeat

and one of the questions one of the members asked to the audience – maybe it was bassist Jeff Johnson – was “do you all remember why you started playing?”  The audience was me, my S.O.,

a very good legit and jazz saxophonist in her own right, and as of yesterday a Doctor of Music Arts,

a couple jazz professors at the university I attend, and maybe 15-20 undergrad jazz students.  After Johnson asked his question there was some unexpected silence.  Then I raised my hand, surprised that nobody had already uttered what I was about to say, and sheepishly said “because it’s fun.”  Duh.  The reason why all musicians start playing – maybe except the ones who are just in it for the chicks – is because playing is fun, or at least it should be.

Which brings me to today’s point: Bryan and the Haggards, led by saxophonist Bryan Murray, is my new favorite band.  Why?  Because listening to their new album – which is all covers of songs that either Merle Haggard wrote or performed a lot – is the most fun I’ve had listening to a record in a long, long, long time.  It showed up in the mail maybe on Monday.  It’s now Thursday.  I’ve probably already listened to it 10 x’s alreaady, to the amusement of my S.O.

If you haven’t noticed, I listen to a ton of music – and I would argue that my border collie mix has bigger ears than most jazz undergrads, at least he should after putting up with me for 8.5 years.  Point is – while I love listening to music, and I derive a lot of satisfaction from listening to music, a lot of the music I listen to and enjoy is not fun music.

Much of it is very cerebral, abstract, and isn’t based on anything that might lead me to a) get my nasty guitar rock on; b) shake my ass; c) sing along; or d) laugh uncontrollably because I’m having too much fun.    As soon as I heard the first notes of Bryan and the Haggards new CD Still Alive and Kickin’ Down the Walls I laughed all the way through – because it made me that happy. Overcome with joy, laughter was my only possible response.  Halfway into the first song, my S.O. asked me (she already knew the answer) “you’re having too much fun aren’t you?”  Damn right I was.  As I write I’m listening to it and still having fun.

Getting this disc helped turn a shitty Monday and somewhat shitty Tuesday into pretty manageable days – it is making my week, in fact.

Now on to the particulars:

-Bryan Murray and Jon Irabagon on reeds; Jon Lundbom on git; Moppa Elliott on bass; Danny Fischer on drums.

-8 tunes, 6 by Merle, 2 not by Merle

-the Haggards stay pretty true to the original melodies and chord structures, and the rhythm sections sounds pretty damn close to a country band rhythm section – and Lundbom could take his telecaster into any honky band and fit in.  The solos for the most part are a mixture of straight ahead and interstellar excursions.

Because videos of performances are always better than words….here are two videos from the group’s 2009 performance from someplace called Goodbye Blue Monday in Brooklyn.


Wasn’t that fun?  I especially love the cowboy hats and shit kickers, and when Irabagon adjusts his cowboy hat while squealing away on the alto.  And the ending to “Trouble” is pretty damn epic.  I showed these videos to a killing tenor player friend of mine – he called these performances a “for the love of the music” type thing.  I responded with “for the love of Haggard.”  Either way, correct on both fronts.

People might think that Bryan and the Haggards are just a novelty, or a joke band.  Who knows, maybe they are, maybe they are dead serious.

I can certainly see how the idea of an avant-garde Merle Haggard cover band could come about over several pitchers

Whatever their intentions, however the band came together – who cares.  Because I find Bryan and the Haggards to be a group of extremely talented musicians who play well together, who have the metaphorical stones to not only come up with a somewhat crazy idea, but to figure out how to execute and sell it in a creative, challenging, fun, and irreverent as hell way.

If you like the music of any of these guys or groups they’re affiliated with, such as Mostly Other People Do the Killing or Jon Lundbom’s Big Five Chord, then you should dig this.  And if you like them AND love Merle Haggard (that would be me), then you absolutely have to get Still Alive and Kickin’ Down the Walls.

Trust me, it will remind you why you started getting into this music to begin with.

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