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Billy Joe Shaver

Shaver's Jewels (The Best of Shaver)

New West Records

Billy Joe Shaver has what I consider the perfect country singer bio: broken home, mom worked in a night club, dead end jobs, industrial accidents and missing fingers, and don't forget about his failed attempt to surrender to police after shooting a man in the face. I'm sure there's a cup of coffee and a blue tick hound hanging around that pickup truck on the front lawn. This man IS country and with two dozen albums under his belt, it's time for another retrospective and here it is -- sixteen career spanning cuts, and all winners. The style is officially "Outlaw Country," but what that really means is country as a poetic contemplation on the joys and mysteries of life backed by a simple acoustic guitar and a flashing beer sign. You can pick almost anything from Shaver's catalog, but this collection focuses on material created with his son Eddy, who passed away in 2000.

We open with the blistering "Fast Train to Georgia." Its a simple, effective and popular cover in and outside of the country universe. It sums up the four pillars of country life: faith in Christianity, a strong but flexible moral code, minimal education, and low expectations. "Picking cotton, raising hell, and baling hay" is the pull quote for this track, and it's a doozy. Later tracks are slower but more guilt ridden; "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ" is a simple acoustic number not quite suitable for Sunday service, but still a thoughtful look at the anodynes for sinful living. "The Cowboy Who Started the Fight" is a sad tale without official redemption. Fear not though, because we don't spend too much time hanging out at church, "Thunderbird" decries that awful day the price of hillbilly communion wine rose from "Forty Twice" to "Dollar Twenty Nine." By the time Shaver is "Leaving Amarillo," he's complaining about his woman whose "ass is thirteen axe handles wide" and the sad fact you can't buy beer at the gas station. In this album, a working man can't get an even break.

Shaver and his son were a magical combination -- Shaver's vocals and Eddy's guitar are one of those rare combinations that are so good you don't even notice their skill at first. That effortless sound belies the skill and thought involved, or perhaps the men are so embedded in this world that they can find no other way to express themselves. Take a cruise through the liner notes as you listen, Kinky Friedman took the time to pen them and he's another savant at entertainment. It's almost like this collection is one of those old fashioned glowing Christmas ornaments with Baby Jesus, Santa, and the Grinch all sitting at a bar drinking with a Lone Star sign flashing in the background.

The Original Honky Tonk Hero