It is doubtful there is anyone in music that has gone through life’s emotional wringer as much as Billy Joe Shaver in recent years. The title track of The Earth Rolls On is a reference to how life went on after the 1999 passing of his wife Brenda, but it also serves as a fitting eulogy for his son and band mate Eddy, who died of a drug overdose on December 31, 2000. The earth and Shaver’s music both roll on without some of their inspirations, but that doesn’t mean they can’t inspire others in turn.
Taking off from where their previous albums for the New West label left off, Shaver and crew take the southern rock ‘n’ blues of Electric Shaver, fuse it with the gospel soul of Victory, and come up with a winning collection of songs that reflect their Texas roots without sounding stuck in a regional sound. Lest the above comments sound like this is going to be some kind of too-serious glum fest, take a listen to the bouncy “New York City Girl”, which recalls the best late-Seventies upbeat honky-tonk sound of Willie Nelson. Even “Restless Wind”, takes a positive spin on tragedy and depression: “There ain’t no use in crying, it don’t take an educated head to know,” Shaver sings in his weathered voice that sounds like it has seen its share of tears.
The tragedy of Eddy’s death looms heavy over the disc, if only for the sense of loss at one so obviously talented being gone so quickly and senselessly. The younger Shaver’s guitar is all over this album, lending Stevie Ray Vaughn style blues licks to “Sail of My Soul”, a near-perfect solo to the title cut, and a propulsive, rhythmic feel to the family rant, “Blood Is Thicker Than Water”, which is an almost funny duet between Billy Joe and Eddy—funny, that is, until you realize they’re singing about themselves.
The most important thing about a piece of good music isn’t what it sounds like, really, but what one takes away from it after the last note sounds. As “The Earth Rolls On” trails off into Eddy’s wrenchingly gorgeous soloing, all the lyrical references to family and faith are wrapped up in those couple minutes without another word needing to be said—anyone out there with family (and that’s all of us, really) will understand.