Review: Friends and Fellow Travelers Pay Perfect Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Various Artists/Live Forever: A Tribute To Billy Joe Shaver/New West Records
Four Out of Five Stars

Biĺly Joe Shaver was, by most estimates, an unapologetic curmudgeon, an artist who freely shared what was on his mind and, in the process, created some of the most memorable songs of the genre that came to be known as outlaw country. He belonged to an exclusive club of rebels and raconteurs that also included Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, all of whom swapped songs and became fast friends. Shaver was widely admired by his peers, and his songs continue to resonate despite his passing at age 81 in 2020. 

It’s telling that the drawing that adorns the cover of this high-profile tribute shows a feisty-looking Shaver in full fighting mode. Then again, this was the same guy who shot a man in the face after being offended during an altercation.

That said, the emphasis here is on melody, not mayhem. George Strait’s tender take on “Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me” results in what is essentially a beautiful ballad. Amanda Shires’ version of Shaver’s signature song, “Honky Tonk Heroes,” takes a sharp turn from reflective to robust, stirring up the sentiment that’s referenced in the title. So too, Miranda Lambert’s turn on “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” makes the song as upbeat and optimistic as it was originally intended. So too, when Willie returns for “Georgia On A Fast Train” it’s clearly as upbeat as intended.

Rodney Crowell’s reflective rendering of “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” Allison Russell’s powerful yet poignant “Tramp On Your Street,” Margo Price’s emotive “Ragged Old Friends,” and Willie Nelson’s searing cover of “Live Forever” add sentiment and, yes, sweetness, to the mix.

On the other hand, Ryan Bingham’s “Ride Me Down Easy” is driven and determined, well in keeping with Shaver’s feisty persona. Naturally enough, Steve Earle takes the same route on “Ain’t No God In Mexico.” One might suspect that Shaver himself would nod his approval. After all, Live Forever does him justice, and, in the process, stays true to its title. 

Photo by Cameron L. Gott / New West Records

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