Billy Joe Shaver

Long in the Tooth

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Billie Joe Shaver was one of the original members of the 1970s outlaw country movement, but he never became a household name like Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings, although Shaver songs like "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train," "Good Christian Soldier," "Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me," and "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)" are acknowledged classics. Shaver, a hard-living Texas country singer and songwriter whose best songs were a fair step past brilliant, either didn't play the game right, or didn't care for the spotlight, or maybe the game just passed him by, who knows. He had a bit of a revival in the 1990s with his band Shaver, which included his son Eddy Shaver, a rising Texas guitar slinger who had mentored with Dickey Betts and had already played on albums by Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, and Willie Nelson and toured as lead guitarist with Dwight Yoakam, but Eddy's death in 2000 of a heroin overdose pretty much sank that ship, too. But the elder Shaver never stopped writing songs, although his recording career seemed behind him. Luckily, he still had this album in him. Long in the Tooth features ten new Shaver songs, and if his voice by now (the album was released in his 75th year) has worn to a deep, rough rasp, the songs are as strong and as vital and world-weary wise as ever, and at least three of them here -- the opener "Hard to Be an Outlaw" (a duet with Willie Nelson); the beautiful, ragged fiddle and piano waltz "I'll Love You as Much as I Can"; and "The Git Go," which is full of a kind of rugged, hard-earned resignation -- have the feel of instant Shaver classics. This release probably won't make Shaver a household name any more than any of his other albums over the years, if being a household name is, or ever was, even a goal of Shaver's in the first place, but he's still one of the best country songwriters out there and his song catalog is among the greatest in the whole history of the genre. Here's hoping that this set isn't a swan song and that he still has more songs in him to add to that impressive legacy.

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