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Billy and the Kid

by: Billy Joe Shaver

Album Artwork

Billy Joe Shaver
Billy and the Kid
(Compadre Records)

Tinkering with unfinished recordings made by a gifted artist can be a tricky proposition. From the Beatles’ “Free As A Bird” to countless similar efforts (Townes Van Zandt’s A Far Cry from Dead springs to mind), the results often have the effect of erasing some sort of essential spirit – as if the soul of the artist took flight from the material in direct proportion to the degree of reworking that went on. In the case of this “posthumous” collaboration between Billy Joe Shaver and his late son Eddy, however, none of the above applies.

It’s common knowledge that Eddy Shaver – who, in 2000, died from an accidental drug overdose at age 38 - was a supremely talented guitarist. This album shows that he was a superb composer as well. Billy Joe Shaver and Tony Colton (the album’s primary co-writer and producer) have said they “had visits and instructions from Eddy to create [Billy and the Kid] … with tracks that Eddy left [for them] to finish.” The assertion is easy to believe.

After kicking off with the Billy Joe-penned, hymn-like ballad “Fame,” the album launches headlong into the full throttle blues-rock that constitutes its primary motif. Blustery rockers such as “Lighting a Torch” and “Baptism of Fire” tap into the younger Shaver’s love of Southern bands such as the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, albeit with a large added dose of molten brimstone. Similarly, the metal-guitar churn and muscular lead break that fuels “If It Don’t Kill You” owe as much to vintage Mountain as they do, say, to Texas blues maestros such as Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Whereas such moments showcase Eddy Shaver’s skills as a guitar-slinger of the highest order, a smattering of more restrained songs emphasizes the tasteful elegance that underscored much of his previous work with his father. Chief among these are the naked lament “Eagle on the Ground” and the elegiac “Window Rock,” both of which feature overdubbed vocals from Billy Joe that shine perfectly against the backdrop of his son’s painterly arrangements. Indeed, while songs such as “King of Fools” and the aforementioned “Baptism of Fire” reveal Eddy Shaver to be a fine blues vocalist in the Greg Allman tradition, the addition of Billy Joe’s voice to most of this material lends gravity to compositions worthy of that weight.

And speaking of gravity, Colton is deserving of special mention. Primarily as lyricist, Colton co-wrote all but two of the songs on the album, and his themes inhabit Eddy Shaver’s music like the proverbial hand-in-glove. “God only knows why I’m still living / Jesus Christ is where it’s at / The spirit tapped me on the shoulder / And he handed me my hat,” sings Billy Joe on “Window Rock.” Those words, and the elder Shaver’s plaintive delivery of them, conveys a loss that’s palpable.

–Russell Hall

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