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Billy Joe Shaver gets better with age

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., July 26, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Billy Joe Shaver seems to only get better with age. After an absence of about four years from Boston, Shaver, on the eve of the release of an unusual CD for him, was in great form with his weathered voice, band and energy level.

Shaver has a very vast catalogue going back about 35 years. He has never been in pantheon of the most popular performers. His vocals is somewhat of an acquired taste as it's a weathered voice, not particularly pretty but effective in putting the songs across. And that is where Shaver shines - as a songwriter. So much so that Waylon Jennings once recorded an entire disc of Shaver songs (Shaver sang "Honky Tonk Heroes," the title track of Jennings' effort).

Shaver admitted he could write well, sounding almost egotistical before you realize that he really isn't full of himself. Shaver has a very relaxed stage presence. He tells lots of stories, often funny, including one about his mother, who was a real character, and his own marital problems (he married his first wife a total of three times). Shaver shifted between honky tonkers, rockers (the playful "That's What She Said Last Night"), more blues inflected songs and several a capella cuts. A particular highlight from the emotional standpoint was "Star in My Heart," dedicated to his late son, Eddy, who played with Shaver until his death. "If you tempt God too many times, he'll take you," Shaver said before singing the sad song. He followed that up with a fine reading of "Live Forever," providing an obvious contrast.

Shaver is touring with a sturdy quintet, featuring a lot of real good harp playing from Paco Shipp, guitar from both Jeremy Woodall and Jamie Hartford, David Carroll on bass and Mark Patterson on drums. Shipp, in particular, infused the songs, while Woodall and Hartford both had their guitar runs without overpowering Shaver.

Shaver was pleased with the effort, shaking hands and hugging band members after the end of the almost two-hour show.

As for his upcoming release, "Everybody's Brother" (Compadré) is an all-gospel affair produced by John Carter Cash. Shaver said after the show he was very excited about the package, but didn't play any songs from it during the show. Given Shaver's ready acknowledgement of his past of drugs and women, it seems a bit unusual, but Shaver makes it quite clear he's a believer. A few songs played at the end of the show, "Try and Try Again" and "Jesus Christ is the King" sound like they very well could have been on the new release, even if they weren't.

Some artists are way over the hill by the time they hit Shaver's age, 67 for only a few more weeks. In the case of Shaver, it is quite refreshing to see someone devote so much effort and both give and get so much joy out of his musical gifts.