Record Review 

Billy Joe Shaver is a survivor. In the past three years, he has lost his mother, his wife and his only child. Then he suffered a heart attack on stage and had four coronary bypasses. How did Shaver cope? He wrote songs. And now he's released his first "solo" album in almost 10 years.

Freedom's Child finds Shaver working without his late son, Eddy. And while Eddy's absence is obvious, Billy Joe takes the opportunity to let the focus return to his songs. It's a mixed bag, somewhat inconsistent and thematically scattered, but with several gems that shine brightly. Shaver has a unique way of telling stories and describing situations, and for the most part he continues to do these things well.

Only one track directly addresses the losses he has suffered, the deceptively simple "Day By Day." But several other songs deal loosely with life's tribulations. Both the title track and the remade "Good Ol' U.S.A." seem to reflect Shaver's reaction to 9-11, but without the string-pulling approach other popular country songs have taken. A sense of loss permeates "We" and seeps through the hard country twang of "Drinkin' Back."

Two hidden tracks end the album on an unusual note -- the haphazard "Merry Christmas to You" and a cryptic but essential demo of the blues tune "Necessary Evil," featuring Eddy singing and playing by himself. It may be Billy Joe's way of saying goodbye, or his way of keeping Eddy with him. Either way, it's a clue that the loss hit hard -- and that despite the obvious pain Shaver is feeling, he is doing what he must.

Freedom's Child may not be Shaver's best album. But given the circumstances, it may be one of his most important -- at least to him.



Billy Joe Shaver plays Smith's Olde Bar Fri., Nov. 29.

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