Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#948 in the Series) is Billy Joe Shaver, Long in the Tooth
On the Mount Rushmore of 70’s Highwayman Icons, a zip code that includes Willie Nelson,Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristoffersons, Billy Joe Shaver could very well be considered the fifth Beatle, the under the radar cowboy that jump-started the movement with Honky Tonk Heroes in 1973, and in the process put the outlaw in Outlaw Country, reshaped the image of Waylon Jennings, changed the landscape of Country music forever, and just might have laid the foundation for Roots Rock and the Americana movement that is in full force today.
Having already used up most of his nine lives, he was abandoned as a baby, lost part of two fingers in a saw mill accident, out lived his son, and was acquitted of murder charges in 2007 following a shooting incident in the parking lot of a Texas roadhouse. Billy Joe Shaver is a living, breathing country song having penned some of the best of them including “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Live Forever,” “Tramp on Your Street,” and “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” just to name a few. And now, with Long in the Tooth, his first full length since Everybody’s Brother released in 2007, the wandering gypsy is back, and he’s better than ever.
Holding serve with the opener “Hard to be an Outlaw,” a song he had little trouble convincing Willie Nelson to be a part of, has an old school 70’s Outlaw Country pathos about it and features Willie being Willie alongside Shaver’s emotive vocal turn that is barrel aged to perfection. The song itself is excellent, bordering on brilliant, and would have fit in quite nicely on Nelson’s recent Band of Brothers L.P., or even on Ol’ Waylon, the record that featured the stone cold classic “Luckenbach, Tx (Back to the Basics of Love). After all, It’s hard to be an outlaw when you ain’t wanted anymore.
Shaver is not necessarily at his best when he plugs in, goes electric, and turns the Marshall up to 11 like he does on the title track “Long in the Tooth,” but he might be at his most passionate and personal. Spitting out the lyrics like snake venom Ray Wylie Hubbard style. This is about as close as he comes to purging some of the Rock and Roll demons left over from his collaborations with his late son Eddy Shaver. “The Git Go,” a song co-written with Gary Nicholson, dials things back a notch, has a definite political bent to it lamenting the fact that not much has changed, wars are still being waged, politicians can be less than honest, Jesus died for our sins, and it’s been that way since the git go, and it’s always been that way. He’s got a point.
The mood get’s better, and the tempo picks up several notches “Georgia on a Fast Train” style on “Sunbeam Special,” and on “I’ll Love You as Much as I Can” he slightly out-kicks his vocal coverage on this ballad style of a tune, but what the heck, when the song writing is this good, and the message is this strong, some minor shortcomings can definitely be over looked.
One of the best horses in the stable here is “Last Call for Alcohol,” a quintessential drinking song that would have fit perfectly had it been added as the closer to Mighty Merle’s Back to the Barrooms, just after “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” This one would have the potential to be an instant classic if Billy Joe Shaver was more on the musical radar than he has been over the last forty years, and it probably would solve one of the worlds great mysteries, one of finding Bigfoot proportions, if anyone could figure out why Billy Joe Shaver is not more widely considered one of the best Country Stars ever standing right alongside Cash,Haggard, Nelson, and the rest.
The odds aren’t very good that you will find any of these songs on the jukebox at your local tavern, and that is criminal. Even the last three songs, typically a placeholder for songs that are not even fit for B sides are stellar. “American Me” is a Texas Tornado tinged mariachi stomp that would make Doug Sahm blush. “I’m in Love” is another Ballad, and a song and sentiment that would have been better served as the closer, and “Music City USA” is the 10th and last song on the album with a storytelling narrative that is about as strong as you will hear from the Country music scene, past or present.
Long in the Tooth might be one of the best Country albums to be released in the last five years from a songwriter that is at very top of his game. Here’s Hoping that there are more notches on his gun belt that match the quality of this this one, and if there are Billy Joe Shaver just might be the last gunfighter standing.
– Walt Falconer, Houston Texas, USA
Checkout this really cool interview piece courtesy of NPR.