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Billy Joe Shaver

Freedom's Child – 2002 (Compadré)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Billy Joe Shaver

Close to two years after the near-simultaneous death of his son and release of the last Shaver record (and one heart attack later), Billy Joe Shaver is back, now on his own, sounding somehow at the same time resigned and rejuvenated, like he always has and like never before.

There are recurrent vestiges of both his older outlaw country sound and the subsequent electric variant carved out with son Eddy throughout his latest, but both seem recreated - the acoustic side never as spare, the electric more ringing than slashing. There's an uncharacteristic diversity of styles here, too: the Cajun flavor of "Honey Chile," a lightly swinging reprise of the inveterate recycler's "Good Ol' U.S.A.," the boom-chicka-boom of "That's Why the Man In Black Sings the Blues" (an homage to Johnny Cash that echoes "Man In Black," Cash's own explanation of his sartorial choices), the waltz-step weeper "Drinkin' Back," the stripped-down pairing of Shaver's voice with a lone mandolin on "Magnolia Mother's Love." What remains steady is the character and quality of Shaver's songs, by turns full of weary wisdom ("Freedom's Child"), gentle exhortation ("Hold On To Yours"), loose autobiography ("Day By Day," "Corsicana Daily Sun") and, as always, goofy, rocking fun ("That's What She Said Last Night," "Deja Blues"). If music is the best therapy for what ails you, Billy Joe Shaver is one potent healer.