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Billy Joe Shaver 

With Hillbilly Idol. Thursday, December 12, at the Beachland Ballroom.

With vocals that range in tone from reflective to yearning to shattering, country icon Billy Joe Shaver offers a private, healing message to his listeners. And the singer, who calls himself a "lowlife loser," is all the more affecting after having been to hell and back: In the space of just two years, Shaver lost his mother, wife, and son.

Now, lots of songwriters can turn a good phrase. But a smaller number can tell a good story or grapple with pain and death the way Shaver does. Fewer still can make you believe everything's going to be all right when their own world is crumbling. The number of such artists is so minuscule, in fact, that they could be counted on Shaver's mangled right hand. All of which makes Billy Joe Shaver one of the few remaining great country singers. Feeling bad has never sounded so good.

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