Billy Joe Shaver

I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal

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On his Columbia debut, Billy Joe Shaver took some insurance along to his first recording date. Along with being able to have Eddie Kilroy produce him, Shaver asked the producer to include a burgeoning young guitarist on the album who had never recorded before, Shaver's young son, Eddy. When he heard him playing his slash-and-burn style of country and blues, Kilroy agreed and a musical partnership was forged that would last 20 years, until Shaver the younger died of a drug overdose. Also in the guitar fold were stalwarts Dale Sellers and Bobby Thompson. Dave Kirby played bass, Marshall Chapman sang backup on the set, and a host of others filled in the country, gospel, and rock mix that Shaver had been cooking up in his songs. The material ranged from the wild and wooly outlaw country rock of "Fit to Kill and Going out in Style," to the downtrodden "Mexico," to the delightfully rollicking "Ragged Old Truck." There is also a re-recording of "When the Word Was Thunderbird" that works better in this setting than it did on Gypsy Boy. In Kilroy's hands, Shaver's songs, seemingly overly simple, took on the true mystery of their complexity. In virtually every song was the war between the spiritual and the physical. The title track is Shaver's true anthem and has been covered by any left-of-center country singer worth her or his salt since that time. But it is on the closer, "The Road," with its opening words, "The road it never changes but the people always do/Tonight the time has come to tell you so/The path along the riverside is sprinkled now with dew/Stretching out to where God only knows," that the high, lonesome harmonica kicks in and the words come falling from the singer's mouth in a font of loneliness and near despair. But it never quite gets there -- there's a determination to see it all through that rescues the song and underlines what a redemptive work of art I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal is.

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