In Memory Of The Country Outlaw Who Passed Yesterday Steve Crawford’s Review Of Billy Joe Shaver Live Oak Music Hall, Fort Worth, May 31st, 2013
Johnny Cash may be viewed as the quintessential outlaw country badass, but it was Billy Joe Shaver that shot a man in Waco, just to watch him bleed.? Shaver helped shape the outlaw country movement in the early 1970s when Waylon Jennings recorded almost a complete album of his songs (Honky Tonk Heroes).? Elvis Presley, Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson, the aforementioned Man in Black, and George Jones have all recorded his songs.? Yet, for all of his success, he displays no ego in his performances and refuses to live in the past.
Shaver is as authentic as a dirt road and he’s an engaging stage performer – dancing to the music, shadow boxing, leaning back and bracing himself to put his entire body into the song, displaying a huge, beaming smile most of the night.? His discusses his Christian faith repeatedly during a show, leading to some of the oddest proselytizing you’ll ever.? For example, “If you like to hit people, you can hit them harder with Jesus Christ in your life.”
Like fellow Corsicana, Texas native Lefty Frizzell, Shaver cascades into and around the phrasing of notes, with a heavy dose of homespun Texas twang.? He bears down hard on the lyrics, wanting the listener to hear every word.? Lyrically, there are no flights of fancy or impressionistic ramblings; it’s all salt of the earth simplicity.? I’m not a huge fan of his current band, who seem like a trio of displaced metal musicians and can be too heavy handed with the material.? Halfway through the show, Shaver takes a break to rest his voice and the audience is treated with an extended drum solo.? That segment would have to improve significantly to even be tedious.
The 73-year-old Shaver wasn’t born no yesterday and started the night off strong.? After establishing his Texas bona fides, the band hit a solid shuffle with the chicken scratch guitar of “Georgia on a Fast Train.”? John Anderson won a Grammy with his version of Shaver’s cheerfully optimistic “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” and Shaver delivers the song with thorough conviction.? The best moments of the night came halfway through the show when the band members removed their hats, bowed their heads, and Shaver did an a capella version of “Star in My Heart,” a love note written to his son Eddy when he was losing his battle with drug addiction.? After that, the band came back for a beautiful version of “Live Forever,” a song that perfectly encapsulates the Christian aspiration.
Billy Joe Shaver is selling something that’s becoming almost impossible to buy or steal – old fashioned, straightforward emotional honesty.? Grab some while you can.
Grade – A-
Heart of Texas
Georgia on a Fast Train
Honky Tonk Heroes
That’s What She Said Last Night
The Devil Made Me Do it The First Time
Wacko from Waco
I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal
Star in My Heart
When the Word Was Thunderbird
Hottest Thing in Town
The Git Go
You Asked Me To
Woman is the Wonder of the World
You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ