PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth

The man warbles and slides around the words and delivers them with pizzazz. He always sounds like he’s singing right from the heart. Even when he’s joking, Shaver’s serious.

Billy Joe Shaver

Long in the Tooth

Label: Lightening Rod
US Release Date: 2014-08-05

During the past ten years, I have seen Billy Joe Shaver perform at least a dozen times. I saw him play in a backyard, in bars, in benefits, in record stores and record label gigs, and larger public venues. I’ve seen him sing for drunken rowdies and serious scholars and to audiences with notables such as the actor Robert Duvall and the country Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson in the crowd. He always plays the same songs, with a few new ones finding their way over the years, and tells the same stories and jokes; including the uncomfortably racist one about Cowboy Troy and the size of a black man’s penis. (Someone really should tell Shaver not to keep telling that one—it’s not funny.) Shaver’s the real deal, as a record of his from the past is titled, a country music legend. But the question here is, can he still bring it on record?

Shaver has released a slew of discs, over 20 studio and live albums, not to mention compilation discs and packages. He’s got nothing to prove, and his in person performances reveal he still has a lot to give. This is Shaver’s first album of new material in six years. It’s short—10 songs and 32 minutes long—and at 74 years of age and being a musician whose repertoire doesn’t change much, he may not have another one in him.

As the album’s title suggests, Long in the Tooth shows Shaver’s self-aware of his aging. The songs offer the perspective of someone who has been there and done that, and can see the patterns of the past repeated in the present. Sometimes his focus is on the big picture, as on tracks such as “The Git Go” that starts in the Garden of Eden to illustrate how little has changed. Other tunes offer more of a close-up perspective on life, such as the love song “I’ll Love You as Much as I Can”. Shaver understands that romance remains the same as it ever was when it is real.

Shaver writes about the state of country music on “Hard to Be an Outlaw” with Willie Nelson. Shaver knows he’s out-of-place on contemporary country radio, but his complaining is tempered by a sense of humor—an attitude pervasive to the record as a whole. “What I used to do all night / It takes all night to do,” he sings on the title track to a Jew’s harp accompaniment (by the great harmonica player Mickey Rafael, who contributes on his regular appliance else on the disc).

Other great musicians contribute their chops to different songs, including Leon Russell on piano, Tony Joe White on electric guitar, Joel Guzman on accordion, and Stuart Duncan on fiddle. The Can’t Hardly Playboys who backup Shaver include the steel guitar maven Doug Dugmore, bassist Michael Rhodes on bass, Jedd Hughes on guitars, and Lynn Williams on drums. Shaver’s voice may not be as strong as it used to be, but it is still a wonderful, expressive instrument. The man warbles and slides around the words and delivers them with pizzazz. He always sounds like he’s singing right from the heart. Even when he’s joking, Shaver’s serious. In fact, he seems the most sincere when he sings about lighthearted topics—like the blues of “Last Call for Alcohol”.

Shaver may not have changed much over the last decade, and the slimness of this record suggests he’s not about to set the world on fire. He may be old and know it, but he’s still plugging away. He also understands that the world still needs Honky Tonk heroes like him.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.