Billy Joe Shaver

Freedom's Child

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Billy Joe Shaver is a man who has long known more than a little about hard times, and he was certainly put to the test between 1999 and 2001 -- his wife and mother succumbed to cancer; his son and musical collaborator, Eddy Shaver, died of a drug overdose; and he came face to face with his own mortality after suffering a heart attack on-stage while touring behind his final album with Eddy, The Earth Rolls On. Combine all this with the national malaise which struck America in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and it seems appropriate that Freedom's Child, Billy Joe Shaver's 13th album, released in the fall of 2002, eases back on the flinty country-rock he crafted with his son and aims for a quieter, more traditional approach and a contemplative tone. On Freedom's Child, Shaver's thoughts often turn to family, relationships, and home, and whether he's thinking back on a rugged but happy childhood ("Wild Cow Gravy"), the hometown he left behind ("Corsicana Daily Sun"), relationships that didn't quite work out ("We"), and one that might just pan out yet ("Hold on to Yours [And I'll Hold on to Mine]"), he sounds sentimental without being cloying, with just enough grit to make it clear it's the hard-won little victories that often make the difference. The less-explicitly self-referential songs, most notably "Honey Chile" and "Day by Day," prove that Shaver is still a master storyteller, and if the playful patriotism of "Good Ol' U.S.A." is just a mite overplayed, the blunt realities of "That's Why the Man in Black Sings the Blues" serve as a balance. (And "That's What She Said Last Night" is on hand to prove that Shaver still has plenty of rowdy roadhouse stomp left in him.) The primarily acoustic arrangements of Freedom's Child put the emphasis squarely on Billy Joe Shaver and his songs, and the gruff warmth of his delivery and the honest emotional heft of his lyrics are more than strong enough to carry the burden; it's a fine and moving album from one of country's least-appreciated major talents. [The CD version of Freedom's Child also includes as a bonus an unreleased performance from the late Eddy Shaver, a solo blues workout called "Neccessary Evil."]

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