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Billy Joe Shaver
Alternative Folk

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. David McGee

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