Written by Merle Haggard
The country music world took some time to mourn the death of Merle Haggard on April 6 last year, as you do when a legend passes on. But after a few Twitter posts and Facebook updates, it went on, pretty much as normal. This is not a criticism of country music, but a statement of fact that Haggard’s Bakersfield Sound is as far removed from the current country scene as the Carter Family, Hank Williams or any other long-gone legend. Aside from some of the veteran performers like Brad Paisley, there isn’t anyone on radio who can claim Hag as a source of inspiration. You’re more likely to hear the Backstreet Boys on mainstream country radio than “Mama Tried.”
Therefore, if you want a good Haggard cover, you’re going to have to look off the beaten path, which leads in this case to Texas’ Ronnie Fauss. Fauss is a bit of an odd choice for a Haggard cover too, for that matter. With two full-length albums and a few EPs to his credit, he’s decidedly more on the rocking, alt-country side of the Americana world than the honky-tonk side. Still, he knows his way around a cover song, and he delivers with an amped-up take on “Swingin’ Doors” that blows a fair bit of dust off a 50-plus-year-old classic.
This version of “Swingin’ Doors” trades in the steel guitar for some electric guitars and a mandolin. That may be heresy to traditionalists, but it would be right at home in a bar with a hot live audience. While it may lose the honky-tonk shuffle of the original, it also loses the dated background singers that were a staple of ‘60s country songs. They’re not missed.
Even with the amped-up sound, Fauss’ treatment of the song doesn’t detract from the pain and heartache in Haggard’s lyrics. In the end, it does everything one could ask of a good cover song: it puts a new spin on an old favorite.