Billy Joe Shaver

Long in the Tooth (Lightning Rod)

Crazy From the Heat

Billy Joe Shaver

Long in the Tooth (Lightning Rod)

No coincidence that with Willie Nelson topping charts for the first time in decades, Billy Joe Shaver shows up with his first album of new material since 2007's Everybody's Brother. After all, Nelson's Band of Brothers stars two new Shaver cuts, "The Git Go" and "Hard to Be an Outlaw," both featured by Shaver on his Long in the Tooth, the latter song leading off the LP in duet with Nelson. Shaver harbors no shortage of contempt for the state of country music, and thus continues firing shots at it, but the triumph of Tooth is far more personal. Here's Shaver the irascible honky-tonk hero, older but no less ornery, turning from a decade's work that focused more inward and heavenward following the deaths of his mother, wife, and son. Like "Hard to Be an Outlaw," the title track still wrestles mortality, but with a snarl instead of sentimentality against the jagged, jaw-harped rhythm. "The Git Go" borders on fury in Shaver's raw drawl and yelp, while "Checkers and Chess" kicks at a rigged system, and "Last Call for Alcohol" sloshes across the dance floor with a cackle. Train tune "Sunbeam Special" and closer "Music City USA" both jangle as up-tempo thumpers to slower numbers like the touching waltz "I'll Love You as Much as I Can" and superb ballad "American Me." Finally, "I'm in Love" surprises with its swooning – if out of place – arrangement. Billy Joe Shaver, 74, came into this world rough around the edges, so his songwriting resonates with unmatched autobiographical intensity and Long in the Tooth follows suit. Contrary to the album title, he ain't headed for pasture anytime soon.

****

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