On his Library of Congress recordings in the '40s, Woody Guthrie talks about the songs he wrote based on Steinbeck's novel "Grapes of Wrath." He tells the interviewer he wrote them for people who didn't have 35 cents to spend on a movie ticket but who might like to hear the story.

For those living in the first half of the century, Guthrie's songs were a "musical newspaper" of sorts, late-breaking stories from the heart of the heart of America.Merle Haggard's songs have served the same purpose for the last half of the century.

Over the years Haggard has written headlines about patriotic fervor ("Fightin' Side of Me,"), crime ("Out Among The Stars") and the plight of the American farmer ("Amber Waves of Grain").

Now comes "Blue Jungle," Haggard's "read all about it" album of tunes for and about America's homeless.

And like a newspaper's "bulldog edition" - the first edition to hit the streets - the songs have some real bite.

The title cut comes from another of Haggard's "inner city blight" numbers. Like "Big City," the song "Blue Jungle" is a two-stepping shuffle tune - the type of song Haggard once swore he'd never write.

Easy to dance to, as they say.

"Lucky Old Colorado" is a country waltz, "Sometimes I Dream" has the straight ahead honesty of the best songs written by Lefty Frizzell and "Me and Crippled Soldiers" is Haggard's anti-flag burning anthem.

But the meat and potatoes here are in "Under the Bridge," "My Home Is in the Street," and "Driftwood" - all songs about Americans forced out into the cold by a floundering economy and apathy.

The chorus from "My Home Is in the Street" is a classic Haggard editorial:

No sir, I'm not homeless,

my home is in the street,

I'm not some lonely person

down there begging at your feet;

Somehow we stay warm and cozy

buttoned to the wind,

No sir, I'm not homeless,

we just need a house to put it in.

"Blue Jungle" may never become one of Haggard's most memorable albums. He's had a good half dozen better efforts. But it does serve as a worthy page in the book of life - or newspaper of life - being compiled by America's most important country singer.