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Twang Bangin'

The RFT music staff previews some highlights from this year's Twangfest line-up.

Nothing else on the album is quite up to that level of brilliance, but nothing falls too far below it, either. McWilson's albums feature playing by Dave Alvin (her producer), Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey (her husband), Greg Leisz and Chris Gaffney, all of whom sublimate their natural styles to the needs of the songs. Although none of these luminaries is touring with her, expect McWilson to be one of the many highlights of Twangfest's blockbuster final night. -- Pick

Billy Joe Shaver
Saturday, June 8, midnight

As the senior member presiding over this year's Twangfest, Billy Joe Shaver has well earned the midnight slot on the last night of the festival. Though Twangfest's Americana tag hangs comfortably on Shaver, his roots go far deeper than a lot of those wearing the label. Shaver wasn't simply influenced by the greats of traditional country and western music, he was writing songs for many of them during country music's renascence in the '70s. His name may not ring a bell, but his songs have been performed by countless of the greats, from Roy Acuff to Waylon Jennings to Willie Nelson to the Man in Black himself.

But it isn't just Shaver's songwriting that merits our veneration; his own performances have, over the years, established him as the ultimate interpreter of his own songs. A songwriter for Bobby Bare in the late '60s, Shaver began his recording career as a founding member of the outlaw movement, telling his honky-tonk stories of poor upbringing, hard living and momentary salvations. Shaver, like the movement, has gone on to produce a body of work that encompasses the sounds of gospel, blues and metal.

Shaver has suffered more than his share of tribulations over the past three years, losing his mother and wife to cancer and his son and long-time collaborator to heroin. To boot, Shaver himself isn't in the best of health, all of which combine to lend a sense urgency to his performances; when he sings about life, love and moving on in a voice that knows of which it speaks, he demonstrates incredible artistic resiliency and, just maybe, the transformative power of art itself. Unnaturally optimistic (a trait he credits to his grandmother's rearing philosophy), Shaver believes that all of it -- critical instead of economic success; loss of love; illness and death -- serves a purpose greater than his own. For listeners, this translates into a subtly textured performance. Those folks who precede Shaver on stage this year, and those of us in the audience, owe him a colossal debt. -- Brooke

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