Billy Joe Shaver | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Billy Joe Shaver 

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Billy Joe Shaver, the guy who wrote every tune on Waylon Jennings's 1973 classic Honky Tonk Heroes, came back strong in the early 90s with albums like Tramp on Your Street (Zoo). But it's hard to imagine this key figure in the Texas outlaw movement making that resurgence without the support of his son Eddy's guitar work. Eddy Shaver had played on just about all of his dad's records from the early 80s on, but his gritty solos really started landing punches on the later discs, where he added some modern flash to Billy Joe's country-folk ruminations on drinking, playing, and loving hard. After Eddy OD'd on heroin and died on New Year's Eve 2000, Billy Joe--still mourning his wife and mother, who'd both died the year before--soldiered on, touring in support of last year's terrific The Earth Rolls On (New West). But I wondered whether his music would survive the loss. He's adapted: on the new Freedom's Child (Compadre), Jamie Hartford adequately handles the electric guitar parts, but he generally sticks to rhythm playing, and the dearth of solos seems a gentle homage to Eddy. And Billy Joe himself has never sounded better. He addresses his personal losses in a voice cracked with tenderness in "Day by Day," imagining an eventual reunion with his departed loved ones: "Day by day his heart kept on breaking / And aching to fly to his home in the sky / But now he's arisen from the flames of the forest / With songs from the family that never will die." But Shaver isn't entirely wrapped up in his own life--he sings about the world around him as well. The western swing number "Good Ol' U.S.A." might seem like a standard-issue flag-waver, but the Johnny Cash-inspired "That's Why the Man in Black Sings the Blues" is a heartfelt litany of laments for an America beset by drugs and violence. Shaver fronts a new quartet that includes Hartford on guitar. Saturday, December 14, 9:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

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