The Texan troubadour is celebrated more enthusiastically by his country contemporaries and those who followed than the wider public but, as he approaches his 75th birthday, Shaver continues to produce vital and inspiring Americana. Long In The Tooth, his first new album for six years, offers a masterclass in redneck storytelling that comes pretty close to such high-water mark sets as Old Five And Dimers Like Me and I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal. Yet it was another singer’s album, Waylon Jennings’ 1973 classic Honky Tonk Heroes, that heralded Shaver’s arrival on the scene (he had a hand in writing all but one of its 12 tracks), and an illustration of his continued standing within the country rebel community comes early here: Willie Nelson saddling up for the opening Hard To Be An Outlaw.
During the past ten years, I have seen Billy Joe Shaver perform at least a dozen times. I saw him play in a backyard, in bars, in benefits, in record stores and record label gigs, and larger public venues. I’ve seen him sing for drunken rowdies and serious scholars and to audiences with notables such as the actor Robert Duvall and the country Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson in the crowd.
Billie Joe Shaver was one of the original members of the 1970s outlaw country movement, but he never became a household name like Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings, although Shaver songs like "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train," "Good Christian Soldier," "Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me," and "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)" are acknowledged classics. Shaver, a hard-living Texas country singer and songwriter whose best songs were a fair step past brilliant, either didn't play the game right, or didn't care for the spotlight, or maybe the game just passed him by, who knows. He had a bit of a revival in the 1990s with his band Shaver, which included his son Eddy Shaver, a rising Texas guitar slinger who had mentored with Dickey Betts and had already played on albums by Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, and Willie Nelson and toured as lead guitarist with Dwight Yoakam, but Eddy's death in 2000 of a heroin overdose pretty much sank that ship, too.
Billy Joe ShaverLong in the Tooth(Thirty Tigers)3.5 out of 5 stars Country radio may not show much love for classic old timers such as Billy Joe Shaver, but thankfully younger guns like Todd Snider have no such reservations. It was Snider’s encouragement that got the 75 year old Shaver to record his first album of original music in six years. Other aging (or in Shaver’s more colorful terminology, “long in the tooth”) peers/legends like Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and Tony Joe White also make appearances for a short but terrific ten track set that captures the notoriously crusty Shaver in fine, tough form.
It's a good year for grizzled Texan outlaws. Following Willie Nelson's Band of Brothers comes this equally classy offering from a fellow veteran, its 10 tracks a songwriting showcase. Nelson rides shotgun on Hard to Be an Outlaw, where 75-year-old Shaver threatens to "terrorise the town" to keening steel guitar, while the rasping Long in the Tooth tussles with mortality to a swampy beat.
Billy Joe Shaver Long in the Tooth (Lightning Rod) No coincidence that with Willie Nelson topping charts for the first time in decades, Billy Joe Shaver shows up with his first album of new material since 2007's Everybody's Brother. After all, Nelson's Band of Brothers stars two new Shaver cuts, "The Git Go" and "Hard to Be an Outlaw," both featured by Shaver on his Long in the Tooth, the latter song leading off the LP in duet with Nelson. Shaver harbors no shortage of contempt for the state of country music, and thus continues firing shots at it, but the triumph of Tooth is far more personal.