Living country legend Billy Joe Shaver has released a marathon live performance on CD and DVD that thoroughly explores his phenomenal career. His generation may be aging, but his music is just as vibrant as ever.
Smith Music Group, 2012
7.8 / 10.0
You might know Billy Joe Shaver as the hard-nosed singer of the theme for Adult Swim’s Squidbillies. If that’s all you know him for, you don’t know much about country music. Long heralded as the outlaw that even the outlaws didn’t send an invite too, Billy Joe is the outcast’s outcast. His debut record, 1973′s Old Five and Dimers, is a classic (and a personal favorite in my collection). His songs, including “Good Christian Soldier,” “Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me,” “Honky Tonk Heroes”, and “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train”, became country standards during the ’70s and his reputation among musicians and critics didn’t diminish in the ensuing decades. Yet, the name of Billy Joe Shaver is hardly household. Like many of our favorite artists here at Earbuddy, I get the feeling he likes it that way. Maybe I do too. With his newest outing, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, we have a tour de force of the man’s forty year career. Jesus, for all of its faults, I can’t help but love it.
Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, Billy doesn’t seem willing to reinvent his career with this live performance. He is playing to the same country-lovin’ crowd he played in the 70′s and 80′s. There is plenty of old country tropes to find here; God, country, women, and booze. Sometimes it works for him (like with “The Git Go”), and sometimes it doesn’t (“Wacko From Waco”, “Good Ole USA”). But, for good and bad, the record is nothing if not absolutely true. I can’t help but think that regardless of Billy’s want, the more delicate numbers work better than the hard-living and rocking bits. Then again, those ballads are what made him famous. Shaver’s voice struggles to make it through rougher numbers like “That’s What She Said Last Night”, but it finds a home on the down-for-the-count numbers like “Old Chunk of Coal” and “Honky Tonk Heroes”. I think the key to understanding Live at Billy Bob’s Texas is really all about the heart wrenching acapella “Star In My Heart” leading into the song that is coming to define Billy’s late career, “Live Forever”. This is the kind of stuff you put your headphones on for. You can literally feel the crowd on the verge of tears, which is just where Shaver wants them to be.
I can’t recommend Billy Bob’s based on the classics. “Black Rose”, my favorite Shaver song, requires the swagger of a younger man even though the band is doing a lot to make the song work. But there are new readings of older songs that I can recommend. I can’t help but think any Shaver fan would love this new version of “Old Five and Dimers” or the nothing-if-not-direct “Love Is So Sweet”. The epic “Thunderbird” is almost on Neil Young levels of storytelling. Though, Billy Joe Shaver has always been a storyteller on his very own level.
Now, that’s just the sound recording. As to the DVD, there are issues and loves. To begin, Billy does a lot of standing. I don’t think he has the ability to do much more these days. The performance is mostly that stand-and-deliver style. Yet, I can’t do this without saying that you need to see the live performance. There are elements of the DVD that I’m not sure I understand being left off of the CD. To begin, the best interstitials are missing. Why in the world would you leave out Billy’s heartfelt ode to his son Eddy before “Star In My Heart”? That IS this performance. Many of these key items are gone in the CD version, making the film an absolute necessity. But this record is pure joy on its own. Regardless of any weaknesses, Billy Joe Shaver is a musician that should be celebrated. This is the kind of collection that does that. So….just buy the damn thing.
“Old Chunk of Coal”
“Star In My Hear/Live Forever”
“The Git Go”
Purchase Billy Joe Shaver’s Live at Billy Bob’s Texas