Billy Joe Shaver
Long in the Tooth
Proper Records LRR25423P
A genuine legend gets angry
I have to hold my hands up and admit I’m not that familiar with Billy Joe Shaver’s back catalogue; owning more of his songs by other artists rather than the man himself; but that means I can approach this latest disc with an open mind.
Just like the new album by Sturgill Simpson, Shaver has taken the traditional Country format shook it by the roots and given it a shot of adrenaline straight into the heart. Opening song ‘Hard to be an Outlaw’ is a duet with Willie Nelson and the wily old stagers use the Old West as a metaphor for their own stagnating careers in the hands of shiny young things in Middle Management; but with songs as striking as this I know who will be remembered for decades to come.
‘The Git Go’ opens with a haunting harmonica solo and hardly ever gets into second gear; but Shaver’s powerful angry anti-politician lyrics will make you ‘think’ in a way you’d never expect; but that’s why he’s still writing and recording at the age of 75.
A while ago I made the point that we don’t get enough train songs these days; but Shaver’s ‘Sunbeam Special’ has put that right with a rocking and rolling twang beat that had my head nodding and my toes tapping along to some of the hottest fiddle, banjo and guitar playing I’ve heard for years.
I think that ‘Last Call For Alcohol’ is meant to be a fun nod to the songs of the past; but the pretend slurred voice and annunciation Alky-hol was just plain annoying to me and spoils a really well written song.
Title track ‘Long in the Tooth’ opens up with a squalling guitar solo and features a Jaw Harp on the angriest song here, with Shaver repeating the refrain over and over again as he borders on Rapping while showing the middle finger to ‘The Man’!
As always I have a favourite song and; as you know I’m a sucker for a love song and; well ‘I Will Love You as Much as I Can’ is a perfect example of a quality Country Love Song and one I will play for a long time to come.
‘Checkers and Chess’ immediately won me back, as Shavers uses the similar traits of both games to compare his current position in the music business; as he says “they make the big moves that make me a lot less/I’m playing checkers while they’re playing chess” and the harmonica and pedal steel solos are as good as ever came out of Nashville. Sadly the next time you hear this song will probably be when one of the millionaire Hat Acts records it (without seeing any irony!).
‘American Me’ features a mariachi’s accordion and some divine fiddle playing and is probably the finest song here and sounds like it could have been recorded by Jim Reeves, Tom Russell or even Dale Watson as it has the timeless quality of the very best songs.
The album ends with another ‘proper’ Country song, ‘Music City USA’ that will have toes a’tapping wherever tunes like this are still in favour and just might be the track that gets the album listened to by those darned Awards committees in Music City USA.
I don’t really know what’s gone before; but LONG IN THE TOOTH is one helluva record for a man of Billy Joe Shaver’s vintage to be making; and I don’t think it will always appeal to his fan base; but it has the capacity to win awards and new fans in abundance.
UK Release August 24th 2014
US Release August 5th 2014