New West Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


These days, it seems like a lot of older country musicians are finding religion. I don't know if Johnny Cash had been singing songs like "Why Me Lord" before American Recordings, but his delivery made it sound like he meant every word he was singing. It was not overtly religious - though I go to church every week, I don't like being hit over the head by what I call "Jesus-freak" messages - but it was enough to make you think.

Same goes for Billy Joe Shaver, one of the founders of outlaw country music. After spending a lifetime imbibed with drink and drug, a near death experience brought his life and actions back into focus. One result of this is the latest release from Shaver, Victory, an album featuring Shaver and his son Eddy.

If you're not into the religion thing, but you like folk-based country, you might want to put your biases on the side for the 37 minutes this disc plays, and just take in the music itself. Both father and son are competent musicians (Eddy is excellent on the dobro), while Billy Joe proves that time hasn't taken any power out of his vocals. The opening a capella piece "Son Of Cavalry" is a bit shaky without any instrumentation, but it is an emotional raw nerve that had to be brought to the forefront to kick this project off.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Not all of the music on Victory has overt religious tones. "Cowboy Who Started The Fight" almost reminds me of the late Townes Van Zandt in Shaver's ability to paint a picture with the story he tells. Likewise, "Old Five And Dimers" appears to be somewhat autobiographical, and if anything, is too short.

When Shaver does turn to a more spiritual side of his music, the results are often quite good. "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ" is a little hokey as a "praise-the-Lord" song, while tracks like "When The Fallen Angels Fly" and "If I Give My Soul" sing of a man who's wasted his life hoping for one more chance to prove himself worthy. These tracks pull on your heart strings, whatever your view of God is, and are quite enjoyable.

For the most part, the key word to describe Victory is emotion. You can hear the happiness in "I'm In Love" and "Live Forever"; you can hear the fear in "If I Give My Soul". If Shaver has accomplished anything with this album, he has laid his life out clearly, and makes all his emotions felt by the listener.

The two shorter numbers that close out Victory, "Presents From The Past" and "The Bow And The Arrow," are not of the same caliber as the bulk of the album, but are worth investigating nonetheless.

And to be frank, I usually don't look forward to listening to albums with religious underpinnings; I always expect them to be preachy and boring. To Shaver's credit, both father and son keep things exciting from beginning to end, and show just how good the country genre can be - even if they are talking about God in many of the tracks.

It took a moment of staring death in the face for Shaver to come up with the life experience that started Victory as a project; for that, we should be thankful that such an album exists. 

Rating: A-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of New West Records, and is used for informational purposes only.