CD/DVD Review – Billy Joe Shaver “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas”
Terrific live CD/DVD package of legendary Texas troubadour
There’s no shortage of live albums on Billy Joe Shaver, including well-picked gigs from the ‘80s (Live from Austin, TX) and ‘90s (Storyteller: Live at the Bluebird and Unshaven: Live at Smith’s Olde Bar), but when you’re an honest-to-God troubadour, each performance is a unique combination of people, place and songs. This two-disc (CD/DVD) document of Shaver’s September 2011 show at Billy Bob’s Texas, is just as essential as the earlier volumes. Though one could never expect Shaver to fully recover from the passing of his son Eddy, he sounds more energized – and less haunted –than he’s appeared in several years. No doubt the stage is both a reminder and a sanctuary, and he throws himself into these songs in a way younger performers couldn’t even imagine. His voice sounds great, and his band plays in a deep, empathetic pocket.
The set list holds few surprises for Shaver’s fans, but mostly because they’re so fervent about his music. Those new to Shaver’s catalog will find many of his best-known songs here, and even his most well-traveled tunes are sung with enthusiasm for words that clearly remain both important and true. The two new titles are the Johnny Cash-styled “Wacko from Waco,” recounting a 2007 shooting incident (also memorialized in Dale Watson’s “Where Do You Want It?”), and “The Git Go,” deftly casting modern ills against biblical antecedents of temptation, truth and fate. Studio versions of the new tunes are also included as bonuses. Shaver’s musical range – from delicate old-timey tunes and folk-country to stomping country-rock – would be impressive at any age, but at 72, he’s hotter than most musicians a quarter his age.
On the DVD, Shaver looks older than he sounds, though his dancing and shadow-boxing, not to mention easy smile, speak to his vitality. The rapt attention and enthusiastic response of the audience clearly add fuel to his performance. The multi-camera wide-screen video runs down the same twenty live titles as the CD but also includes stage dialog and band introductions were edited out of the music-only program. Also included on the DVD are video inserts that provide comments and stories from fellow Texans Willie Nelson and Pat Green. Shaver’s mastery as a performer continues to deepen over the years, so while earlier live sets captured the firebrand energy of younger years, this one showcases his seemingly effortless state of grace. This is a superb collection for Shaver’s longtime fans, and a good introduction for those who’ve only heard his songs covered by others.