August 08, 1983 12:00 PM

Merle Haggard & Leona Williams

Some singers stand out even when they’re doing backup vocals. Emmylou Harris is the best example; she can be part of a chorus of 47 superstar pals who have just dropped into a studio to do someone a favor and yet her voice will ring out so clearly she sometimes upstages a record’s supposed star, albeit innocently. Leona Williams, a/k/a Mrs. Haggard, is a different sort of performer, though. She is much more effective as a background vocalist. While her sweet, thin sound is perfect for quiet harmonizing, she just gets lost when she steps out front, as she does with her husband on this LP. His is such a commanding voice that it would take a Loretta Lynn to hold her own with him, and Leona is no Loretta. As a Merle Haggard album, this would be a success, with a solid version of Waltz Across Texas, a felicitous Haggard-Williams composition, Let’s Pretend We’re Not Married Tonight, and a Freddie Powers-Nate Green song, It’s Cold in California. But while Leona has a wispy kind of appeal, she mostly proves that just because two people are singing at the same time doesn’t mean they’re doing a real duet.

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