A lot of pop acts these days are trying to pass their music off as authentic country and western, but their mostly just urban cowboys who haven’t a hint of dust on their boots. Diametrically opposed to these acts is Texas troubadour Billy Joe Shaver, whose life and music, both for good and ill, have embraced the outlaw ethic of contemporaries Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Storyteller: Live at the Bluebird 1992 highlights the rough and tumble aspects of Shaver’s long musical career as well as his considerable gifts as a singer, songwriter, and storyteller.
The album cannot recreate the experience of seeing Shaver at one of Nashville’s most storied locations, but Gerd Mueller and Shaver have produced the album with an eye toward capturing the warmth and spontaneity of his show. The three “talks” included on the album underscore Shaver’s skills as a storyteller, but they also reinforce that the album captures a specific night of music instead of a random collection of live tracks.
The musical selections offer a comprehensive cross section of Shaver’s long and varied career. He performs rough, spirited renditions of signature tune “Georgia on a Fast Train” and narrative songs such as “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me” and “Highway of Life” that chronicle his many trials and travels. The real treasure, however, is the first known recording of “Live Forever,” a song that Shaver co-wrote with son Eddy before he died of a drug overdose in 2000. The song’s plaintive lyrics resonate even more deeply given the tragedy that followed and the joy that Shaver expresses to be sharing the stage with his son. In this moment, Storyteller: Live at the Bluebird lives up to its billing and best tells Shaver’s poignant tale.