Billy Joe Shaver’s tenacity is legendary; from parental abandonment, hard farm labor, two severed fingers and an eighth-grade education, he became an outsider songwriter in Nashville and graduated with Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes. His perseverance as a performer grew from critically lauded, commercially disappointing solo albums in the ’70s to rebirth with his guitar-slinging son in the ’90s and a subsequent string of well-received indie releases. He endured the deaths of his son, wife and mother in a year that led to a later heart attack.
A lesser man would have packed it in long ago, but hardship is the crucible in which Shaver was reborn to songs that are as much about faith as religion. On Everybody’s Brother, he channels the power of Jesus to order Satan aside, not so politely suggests nonbelievers can “go to Hell,” and scorns religious hypocrisy with Johnny Cash’s “No Earthly Good”. The wear in his voice and the tenacious faith in his soul underscore songs written years ago for his late wife that now fuse love, sorrow and faith into eulogies for her and their enduring relationship.
John Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Marty Stuart and others guest, but are overwhelmed by Shaver’s fervency. The same is true for John Carter Cash’s production, which is assured but missing Shaver’s passion. Bill Miller’s Native American flute and drums add spiritual depth to a title track more universal than its Christian-themed lyrics. Shaver may invoke Jesus frequently, but it’s a broader faith that is this album’s real message.