Billy Joe Shaver

Everybody's Brother

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Billy Joe Shaver is one of the finest songwriters country music has produced in the past 50 years, a poet of the honky tonk who can write about wild nights and the troubled morning after with equal eloquence. Shaver is also a devout Christian whose faith has guided him through more than his share of hard times -- including the death of his wife, mother, and son within the space of 18 months -- and if you find that at all off-putting, you won't be especially comfortable with his album Everybody's Brother. While not strictly a gospel set, most of the songs on Everybody's Brother deal explicitly with issues of Christian faith, and Shaver doesn't pull any punches in these tunes, drawing a line in the sand between salvation and the fallen world. Shaver doesn't pretend that walking in the light is an easy or simple task, and "Get Thee Behind Me Satan" and "Jesus Is the Only One That Loves Us" speak with rough-hewn conviction about the temptations of drugs, booze, and flesh with the honesty of a man who knows their allure all too well. Shaver also has little use for Christians who lack the conviction to help their struggling brethren, an issue he confronts on "No Earthly Good" and "If You Don't Love Jesus." But Shaver also unashamedly celebrates his faith and the peace Jesus has brought to him, and the sincerity and lack of pretense on "Winning Again," "When I Get My Wings," and "Everybody's Brother" may be a bit strong for those who don't share his beliefs. While John Carter Cash's sympathetic, straightforward production serves this material well, the guest vocalists who appear on several songs are another matter -- Kris Kristofferson's voice is in sad shape on "No Earthly Good," and John Anderson's roughhouse style doesn't mesh well with Shaver on his two songs here. But there's no denying the emotional power and passion of these performances, whether Shaver is singing about romantic love ("Played the Game Too Long," featuring a cameo from a game Tanya Tucker, and "To Be Loved by a Woman") or divine love, and the final track, an archival selection in which Shaver and Johnny Cash duet on "You Just Can't Beat Jesus Christ," is superb. Plenty of country acts have recorded pretty and polished gospel albums over the years, but Everybody's Brother is something different, a flinty but unerringly honest testimony from a songwriter who loves Jesus and has no use for false piety. It's a remarkable set that deserves to be heard regardless of your spiritual affiliations.

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