Billy Joe Shaver
Long in the Tooth
3.5 out of 5 stars
Country radio may not show much love for classic old timers such as Billy Joe Shaver, but thankfully younger guns like Todd Snider have no such reservations. It was Snider’s encouragement that got the 75 year old Shaver to record his first album of original music in six years. Other aging (or in Shaver’s more colorful terminology, “long in the tooth”) peers/legends like Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and Tony Joe White also make appearances for a short but terrific ten track set that captures the notoriously crusty Shaver in fine, tough form.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the subject of getting older is seldom far from his thoughts. That’s not just in the unexpectedly funky title track, but also the opening mid-tempo swamp rocker “Hard To Be An Outlaw,” with Shaver and fellow journeyman country music desperado Nelson trading verses as they weigh in on how difficult it is to continue making music in an industry that has discarded them for younger faces. Shaver has a sense of humor about it, as he shows in “Checkers And Chess,” where those games distinguish the rich men playing chess from the workers grinding out careers playing checkers. It’s simplistic but effective and delivered with a sly wink that’s the definition of Shaver’s unpretentious approach.
Shaver’s deep, dusky, rugged voice is perfectly suited for this material, whether in melancholy love songs such as “I’ll Love You As Much As I Can” and “I’m In Love” or the charming Tex-Mex of “American Me” and the old time saloon stomp “Last Call For Alcohol.”
This is pure, non-commercial country, the way Shaver has always played it, performed with grit and grace from one of the genre’s most under-appreciated yet veteran artists who, to borrow a quote from Dylan Thomas, is clearly “not going gently into that good night.”