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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Texan Shaver in Down-to-Earth Show

March 21, 1994|ROBERT HILBURN

So much has been written in praise of Jimmie Dale Gilmore in the '90s that it's easy to assume he's the only overlooked Texas veteran of worth in country music. Before you buy that, check out Billy Joe Shaver, who made a rare West Coast appearance on Friday at Jacks Sugar Shack.

The 53-year-old singer-songwriter has been recording since the early '70s without ever having a country hit to call his own, though his songs have been hits for everyone from Waylon Jennings to John Anderson. His music contributed greatly to country's classic outlaw movement, helping define the romantic, wanderlust notion of someone who doesn't have to answer to anything but his dreams.

After a low profile for years, Shaver bounced back last year with "Tramp on the Street," an album whose spiritually tinged highlights showcased an endearing, optimistic spirit.

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Backed by a hard-biting, three-piece band that included his son Eddy on guitar, Shaver was as down-to-earth as his songs in the opening set Friday. Though his voice was frequently buried in the sound mix, he found enough breathing room on the acoustic numbers to demonstrate the richness and warmth of his music.

In a time when country music is selling more than ever but finding it increasingly difficult to reflect the simple human traits of its tradition, artists like Shaver are too valuable for the country world to ignore.

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