SHAVERThe Earth Rolls On (New West)
While sibling bands are a country-music mainstay, father-and-son teams are remarkably rare; Billy Joe and Eddy‘s Shaver collaboration exemplifies the rich artistic possibilities of such pairings, going far beyond even Doc & Merle Watson’s famed work. These two — Billy Joe, veteran outlaw songwriter supreme, and Eddy, one of modern country music‘s most aggressive and chance-taking guitarists — have made some stunning records together over the past 15 years. Yet with Eddy Shaver’s fatal New Year‘s Eve heroin overdose, this final album from Shaver comes as an unhappy reminder of the duo’s considerable achievements. The Earth Rolls On finds Billy Joe‘s proudly humble vocals and Eddy’s guitar playing more relaxed and expressive than ever before. Although Pop‘s limitations and Sonny’s overexuberant flair have often worked against each other, the balance and purity each strikes here is extraordinary, and together they plow through some brutally honest, previously untilled territory on the Shaver landscape.
Billy Joe, a man who has led a wildly careless, drunken tilt-a-whirl of a life, has regularly documented and explored his shortcomings as a husband and father in his lyrics, often to the point that listeners felt voyeuristic shame at the revelations; the recent Victory album, a somber, spiritual farewell to terminally ill wife Brenda Shaver (who died in 1999), was loaded with such moments. With ”Blood Is Thicker Than Water,“ a duet between Billy Joe and Eddy, the drama reaches undreamed-of proportions: He upbraids Eddy for bringing home ”the devil‘s daughter,“ who’s ”stealing rings from the hands of your dying mother,“ while Eddy relates how he‘s seen Billy Joe ”puking out your guts and running with sluts.“ While almost more than we really ever wanted to know, given the circumstances it’s a poignant dose of Billy Joe‘s outspoken lyrical approach.
Apart from the ghosts that swirl throughout the album, it’s fraught with vintage hunks of the redneck poetry Billy Joe excels in. Few songwriters today could cook up something like ”She‘s got an ass about 13 ax handles wideand to stay here with her would be suicide,“ but he expertly balances it with his sprawling, mystical view of the universe. The ability to blend all of this is a profound gift, one that hopefully will not wither under the recent double dose of tragedy Billy Joe’s been forced to endure.
Billy Joe Shaver appears at the Knitting Factory on Thursday, June 14.