Critics may lament the state or direction of country music (or any other genre for that matter), citing the dearth of quality artists such as Merle Haggard. However, the Hag is one legend who likes what he hears coming out of Nashville.

"Lately I've noticed an improvement in the overall quality of songs and what not," Merle said in a phone interview with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times newspaper. "There have been some pretty neat things."

Among his favorite newbies are Hunter Hayes, Jamey Johnson and fellow icon Willie Nelson's son, Lukas Nelson. However, the singer-songwriter would love to hear another sound that hasn't been present in Music City for a while.

"I'd love to hear a Johnny Cash come to town, somebody who absolutely defies what's going on and takes you in another direction," he admits. "I think that's what we need to see. I'm hoping for it. Nobody's been playing different. That hasn't happened. That's what I look for."

That doesn't mean he's not jealous of the newcomers already here, though. He recently told Billboard magazine about his jealousy directed at George Strait's "Give It Away" writers Jamey and Bill Anderson.

"It's about two people breaking up," explains Merle. "He says, 'What are we gonna do with the chairs and table?' She says, 'F--- it! Give it away.' Jamey is the first to come along in a long spell with the ability to write that way."

The 75-year-old is far from retiring, though. He's playing tonight (April 20) in Portsmouth, N.H., and tomorrow (April 21) in Atlantic City, N.J. Get a full list of tour dates here.

Watch Merle Haggard's 'America First' Video