Billy Joe Shaver

Electric Shaver – 1999 (New West)

Reviewed by Dan Williams

Billy Joe Shaver is a songwriter's songwriter - the author of "Honky Tonk Heroes" sits astride a catalogue covered by Waylon and Willie, Elvis and Dylan.

This is a departure from Shaver's trademark hard honky-tonk by way of the West Texas waltz. As the title implies, there is plenty of amplification onboard.

It's nothing if not varied: a souped-up remake of 1980's "Thunderbird" kicks hard; fueled apace by the distorted blur of Eddy Shaver's Telecaster. "People And Their Problems" - a novelty song with a singalong chorus - rocks aplenty; complete with a seeming reference to Willie Nelson's daily pot intake. "Try And Try Again" bounces and weaves and slurs; enlivened by some of Billie Joe's most expressive singing on record. "You Wouldn't Know Love (If You Fell In It)" is a moody blues filled out nicely by the big sound of producer Ray Kennedy's B-3 organ. And, as always, there are a pair of graceful ballads: a gravelly blues called "Slave At The Feet Of The Queen," and the simple, direct declaration of "I'll Be Here."

Some of the rest seems filler-ish; pleasant enough, if lacking the sparkle of Shaver at the top of his game. This is not his strongest set of material - 1993's "Tramp On Your Street" and last year's country gospel "Victory" eclipse this - but it's still laden with dollops of charm, and a heart as big as the great outdoors.