“The record’s about me…”; first in six years from country songwriting legend…
Brash, feisty, and rambunctious at 75—one would expect nothing less from Outlaw Country’s prodigal son. Indeed, decades after the songwriting well’s run dry for just about all his peers, Shaver is still putting pen to paper, churning out the gems. And Long In The Tooth, in reality his first full set of secular studio originals since 2005’s The Real Deal, has its share.
Old friend Willie Nelson is on board, sharing vocals, bashing contemporary country, and toying with their renegade mythology, on opener “Hard to Be an Outlaw.” Leon Russell and Tony Joe White also guest, but it’s Shaver’s voice, in places more ragged and undisciplined than ever—spirited shall we say—and songwriting that holds the spotlight. With Nashville-style balladry sparring with swampy rockers, up-tempo bluegrass giving way to barroom bashers, …Tooth plays like a Shaver career sampler, borrowing styles from all over the place.
The bravado of the title track might be both the most absurd and most irritating cut of his storied career; the gentle sway of “I’ll Love You As Much As I Can” is its polar opposite, a soppy country/pop crooner from the hillbilly playlists of Eisenhower’s America. Between these extremes lie the album’s most sublime moments. “Sunbeam Special” reminisces on his 1950s Texas childhood over a careening, amped-up banjo/fiddle arrangement. Border-ballad narrative “American Me” mixes personal romance and American arrogance to disastrous outcomes. “Music City USA” melds history and autobiography, appropriating Johnny Cash’s boom-chicka-boom, shades of a long-lost Kris Kristofferson hit circa 1970.
Beyond the bluster, at the top of the heap, are songs without much to do at all with Billy Joe Shaver: “Checkers and Chess,” a splendid, succinct commentary on class; and “The Git Go,” melodic echoes of Mickey Newbury’s “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a haunting, burning, world-weary tour de force on the ways of the world.