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Billy Joe Shaver

Salt Of The Earth – 2000 (Lucky Dog/Sony)

Reviewed by Dan Williams

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CDs by Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver's pre-"Tramp On Your Street" albums are hard to come by, so any documents of his scattered recording career are always welcome. This straight-reissue of a 1987 Columbia album ranks among his best.

Regular visitors to the world of The World's Most Gracious Texan will find much familiar turf. There is the sturm-and-twang of "Sweet Mama" and "Good News Blues" and a pair of loose-limbed workin'-for-the-man anthems in "Manual Labor" and "Hardworkin' Man." "You Just Can't Beat Jesus Christ" manages the neat trick of affirming his spiritual beliefs without seeming didactic or preachy (It doesn't hurt that it swings.) And, as always, there is one keeper ballad - the elegaic "Fun While It Lasted."

Shaver's voice, while not the burnished gem that it would become, is resonant and playful throughout. And the many serrated guitar runs that pepper these songs most likely belong to a young Eddy Shaver.

"Salt" was originally rejected by MCA and released on another label at about the time that records like "Guitar Town" and "Storms Of Life" were changing the face of modern country. Little-heard in its day, it is of a piece on par with the work on those albums and of the young Mr.Yoakam, and that is high praise indeed.