If anyone has a right to sing the blues, it's Billy Joe Shaver. In the past couple of years, the songwriter's songwriter has lost his wife and his mother to cancer, and a son, gifted guitarist Eddy, to a drug overdose. The miracle of Freedom's Child is that Shaver, while acknowledging the dark side of life, finds a reason to believe. Produced by the estimable R. S. Field, and backed by a top-notch band well versed in hard country and roots rock, Shaver employs his weathered voice and novelist's eye for detail to have some fun even as he offers some pointed observations on the way of the world. On "That's Why the Man In Black Sings the Blues," Shaver not only cops Johnny Cash's familiar sound (and links the verses with an instrumental quote from "I Still Miss Someone") but also mimics Cash's voice as he catalogues a litany of societal ills that explain the raison d'etre of the Man in Black, which is Shaver's way of pointing out how little has changed since Cash did the same in "The Man in Black" in 1971. That's followed immediately by its philosophical opposite, "Good Ol' U.S.A.," in which Shaver lauds the freedoms our citizens cherish, but in a song animated by a frolicsome western swing arrangement, Shaver sounds less jingoistic than just happy to be here. "That's What She Said Last Night" is a wild, rocking, Joe Ely-like romp inspired by the reality of the morning after. Drinkin' songs don't get any better than the honky tonk tearjerker, "Drinkin' Back," and breakup songs don't get any bluer than the eerie "Wild Cow Crazy." Shaver's gift for the left-field observation that upends the narrative, transforming the quotidian into revelation, is on ample display here, making Freedom's Child a rich experience, as much for its humanity as for its stirring music.
Performance CreditsBilly Joe Shaver Primary Artist
Todd Snider Vocals
Steve Conn Organ,Piano,Accordion,Hammond Organ
Jamie Hartford Mandolin,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals
Jimmy Lester Drums
Billy Ray Reynolds Background Vocals
Chris Carmichael Fiddle
Paco Shipp Harmonica,Background Vocals
Will Kimbrough Acoustic Guitar,Guitar (12 String Acoustic),Guitar (Baritone)
Keith Christopher Electric Bass,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals
David Roe Electric Bass,Acoustic Bass
Technical CreditsR.S. Field Producer
Robbie Casey Cover Photo
Richard McLaurin Engineer
Mark Harkness Art Direction
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Freedom's Child based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Though Shaver's songs are better known than he is, his records, particularly in the last decade, have been every bit as good as the classic outlaw discs he helped pen. His hard-scrabble childhood, a tour in the Navy and a series of dead-end jobs provided the early grist for his songwriting mill, leading to his breakthrough writing for Waylon Jennings' "Honky Tonk Heroes." Capitalizing on this success, Shaver recorded a series of fine album throughout the 70s and 80s, incorporating his son Eddy's as he went on. ¶ The early 90s found father and son recording with equal billing, releasing a series of albums as "Shaver." Eddy's hotshot guitar playing amped-up his dad's songs, reinvigorating the elder Shaver. After releasing several fine albums, decade's end brought several difficult turns. Billy Joe's wife passed away, as did his mother, and perhaps most distressing of all, his son Eddy died of a drug overdose at the end of 2000. ¶ This then, is Billy Joe Shaver's first solo release in 15 years, his first record without his son in a decade-and-a-half. Though only one song, "Day By Day," directly mourns his losses, the damning lyric of "That's Why the Man in Black Sings the Blues" says as much about his son¿s death as it does about Johnny Cash. Billy Joe Shaver is weary and troubled, but far from beaten. There's resolve to experience the heartache, but not be hamstrung by it, and songs like "Freedom's Child" show both his songcraft and singing at a peak. The lyrics, written several years ago, take on additional layers of meaning in our post-9/11 world, and Shaver¿s singing is all the more potent for the way it hangs back, rather than competing with the electric backing. ¶ The album's poignancy is extended by the nostalgia of "Corsicana Daily Sun," "We", and "Magnolia Mother's Love." The mood is lightened by the humor of "Wild Cow Gravy" and a duet with Todd Snider on the co-written "Deja Blues." Shaver's melodies are more memorable than ever, rendered in an acoustic-electric blend that backs off a notch from his work with Eddy. The result captures the essence of the original outlaw sound, ranging from the electric-guitar and organ mix of the title track, to Western Swing, to the mandolin, harmonica and marching drum of the closing waltz, "Merry Christmas to You." (The bonus track is followed by a minute of silence that reveals a hidden track featuring Eddy Shaver playing and singing the blues, "Necessary Evil," recorded shortly before his passing.) ¶ Great art often rises from the ashes of human tragedy, and with this latest release, Billy Joe Shaver shows himself to be a country music Phoenix. Shaver's fans, along with those of the original outlaws, and listeners who wandered in through the alt.country and Americana doors should all give this a spin or three.