“It’s been a long time, yeah,” Billy Joe Shaver muses about his new album, Long in the Tooth, his first studio record of all-original material in nearly seven years, out today. “I did a live one at Billy Bob’s there at Fort Worth and it got so many reviews, and I talked to so many critics and they were all so good and kind about it. So I promised each one of them that if I came out with a new record it would be all new songs. I had to keep my promise.”
The result is the 10-track Tooth, which features the Texas proto-outlaw singing about class inequality in “Checkers and Chess,” the folly of man in “The Git Go” and the tried-and-true subject of booze in “Last Call for Alcohol.”
“I used to be a real good drunk. I did that to the hilt too,” says Shaver, who pledges truthfulness not just in conversation but in his lyrics. “Most of the things I write are things that are personal to me. I realized that that’s the only way to really be honest. If you go writing about someone else you’re just guessing at it.”
Shaver doesn’t even care much for writing with a partner, the preferred way to create on today’s Music Row. “I have a hard enough time dancing with a girl much less writing with some hairy-legged boy,” he quips.
Still, Shaver does collaborate with some friends on Long in the Tooth. Leon Russell adds piano to “Last Call for Alcohol,” Tony Joe White plays electric guitar on the title track and longtime Willie Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael weaves harmonica throughout.
Nelson himself also appears, duetting with Shaver on “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” a rumination on where country’s veterans fit in today.
“Willie is a real good friend of mine. He recorded two of the songs off this album, ‘The Git Go’ and ‘Outlaw’ [for his own Band of Brothers],” Shaver says. “He called me after his album had been out a week and a half and it [went] Number One. I said, ‘Well, thank God in his heaven, all is right with the world. We’re right back in the saddle again.”
Shaver is currently on a West Coast tour. He’s set to perform in Nashville as part of AmericanaFest, which runs September 17 through 21st.