Billy Joe Shaver | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Billy Joe Shaver

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Music helped Billy Joe Shaver pull through the disastrous years in which his mother and his wife died from cancer, his son Eddy died of a heroin overdose, and he himself suffered a heart attack onstage. The solo acoustic "Fame," the best song on his new album, Billy and the Kid (Compadre), is a touching meditation on what keeps him going: "Desire, that all-consuming fire / Is racing through my veins / Like lightning through the wire." The bulk of the record is built from an unfinished album Eddy started in 1996, mixing completed tunes with others where Billy Joe adds vocals. Eddy's flashy guitar pyrotechnics were a foil for his father's honky-tonk in the 90s, but without his father's input his flashiness is just that. Songs like "Drown in Love" and "King of Fools," where Eddy sings, don't rise above the level of cut-rate Aerosmith; one hard-rock cliche after another bloats each turgid number. The most interesting--and disturbing--facet of the songs is Eddy's less-than-oblique references to his drug addiction: on "Necessary Evil," a wanky faux-Gregg Allman blues, he moans, "You're the first thing I gotta have / And the last thing I really need." Billy Joe's gentle twang graces six of the songs, and his distinctively weightless soul perfectly leavens his son's excess, but the album's an admirable endeavor that doesn't work. Fortunately, Billy Joe has a crack four-piece band these days and a deep catalog of classics. The Kevin Gordon Band opens. Sat 12/11, 9:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-288-2118 or 312-559-1212, $15.

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