Trout Fishing in America

And Merle Haggard death-watching in Irvine

Merle Haggard is American musical royalty, a national treasure, and if his new album is any indication, he seems to be having premonitions of his impending demise. Let's hope that's all just residual drug paranoia, but catch him while you can Monday at the Crazy Horse, just in case.

Evidence Records has been doing a splendid job of mining the late, great SUN RA's catalog of out-of-print rarities for several years, and a rash of five new reissues (including a double-disk set) offers a daunting task for even the most devoted fan to digest all at once. Of perhaps greatest interest to the casual listener will be Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel, which collects 18 of the absurdist jazz bandleader/composer/ keyboardist's most easily digestible tracks into one anthology. Ra never had anything resembling a hit record, of course (the title is a joke, son), but such diverse tracks as "The Order of Pharaonic Jesters," "Saturn" and "Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus"—where he and his vaunted Arkestra liberally mixed swinging phrasing, hard-bop structure, blues sensibility and free-jazz soloing—make a good primer for the uninitiated and a nicely sequenced sampling of great tracks for the more devoted Ra-phile.

Meanwhile, HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN's new album, Dev'lish Mary (on Hightone), finds violinist Elana Fremerman taking a more active role as both a soloist and a lead vocalist than on the trio's past two releases. Unfortunately, Fremerman's singing fails to keep pace with her superb musicianship, and otherwise hot tunes like "When Day Is Done" and "Exactly Like You" are sabotaged by her flat, "pitch-y" vocals, which have been recorded way out in front of the band so that every corrupted note practically rents out space in your ear. The album is still a good one overall—the playing is magnificent throughout (although the swing attack is a mite more aggressive than has been customary for them in the past), and guitar wizard Whit Smith is a far better singer than his counterpart. I just don't think the group has yet to equal their debut, the astonishingly fine Swingin' Stampede.

WALTER TROUT AT THE BLUE CAFE,

210 THE PROMENADE, LONG BEACH,

(562) 983-7111. FRI., 10 P.M. $10; TROUT ALSO PLAYS THE COACH HOUSE, 33157 CAMINO CAPISTRANO, SAN JUAN

CAPISTRANO, (949) 496-8930; www.the coachhouse.com. SAT., 8 P.M. $12.50; MERLE HAGGARD AT THE CRAZY HORSE STEAK HOUSE & SALOON, 71 FORTUNE DR., IRVINE, (949) 585-9000. MON.,

8 P.M. $56-$76.

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