June 1999

Shaver - Electric Shaver
New West 6007
HDCD encoded
Released: 1999

by Marc Mickelson

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Billy Joe Shaver is a national treasure. An uncompromising and sympathetic songwriter, he's also a country performer with rock tendencies who far transcends such labels. Shaver has written No.1 hits, and his songs have been performed by the likes of Elvis, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. His résumé is long and distinguished, yet it took his 1993 collection Tramp on Your Street to bring him back as a performer from the brink of obscurity, proving that has suffered for his art.

Electric Shaver shows Billy Joe near the top of his honky-tonking game, but with a twist: his guitar-wiz son Eddy is by his side providing electrified riffs -- hence the disc's title. The opening of "Thunderbird," which is the opening song, sets the tone, a searing chord sustained as an announcement of what’s to follow and which only gains thematic momentum from there. Songs about persistence in the face of failure ("Try and Try Again"), the niceties of the urban landscape ("New York City"), and blind love ("You Wouldn’t Know Love (If You Fell in It")) show the father in rare form, phrasing his sinewy lyrics for maximum punch -- emotional mostly. Shaver’s gift for plainspoken words that mesh effortlessly with the music is front and center on "People and Their Problems," whose opening stanza, about a sister's good-for-little son who wants a job from his uncle, flits off Shaver's tongue with incredulity and venom. Eddy Shaver’s guitar work is fiery and expressive, and the song he contributes, "Heart to Heart," fits in with dad’s tunes -- no small feat. The sound is good, but not great, even with the HDCD light on your CD player lit.

Electric Shaver shows the outlaw spirit and intrinsic humanity of one of the best country songwriters alive -- two traits that are not easy to reconcile in life let alone song. It was recorded in Nashville, but you won’t see it pumped on TNN -- it’s too honest, too good, and makes the majority of contemporary country music seem all the more crudely commercial and silly. So play it at home and play it loud. The Shavers would want you to.