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with Jesus

By David Werther.

Billy Joe Shaver, Everybody's Brother (Compadre, 2007)

           The songwriting credits of Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, and Johnny Cash are legion and legendary. When they cover someone else's songs, that is high praise indeed. All of them have covered Billy Joe Shaver songs.

           Great songwriters have the ability to express the gamut of human experience. Shaver does so here. There is tenderness (“Most Precious”), regret (“Played the Game too Long”), righteous anger (“If You Don’t Love Jesus”), hope (“When I Get My Wings”), and joy (“You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ”).

           All of the songs save Johnny Cash’s “No Earthly Good” are Shaver compositions. In “No Earthly Good” Cash castigates those who are “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good." Shaver follows Cash’s composition with a 150 proof shot of honky-tonk gospel: “Take your rotten rags of righteousness and stuff them up yourself; if you don’t love Jesus go to hell.”

           Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter, produced all the cuts except the last, “You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ,” a duet demo with Johnny Cash recorded thirty years ago. Cash and Shaver are having a ball: Shaver calling Jesus Christ “a country kinda guy” and Cash interjecting “praise the Lord, gittar . . . praise the Lord, harmonica.”

           Also joining Shaver are Marty Stuart, Alan Jackson, Randy Scruggs, Kris Kristofferson, Tanya Tucker, and Bill Miller. Shaver's work well deserves the supporting performances from these stars. He is indeed a songwriter's songwriter.

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