As admired as this Texas songwriter is in both the rock and country worlds, it's amazing that this is his first retrospective. Amazing, but true-here are 20 tracks from 12 1977-1998 albums, including tales of heartbreak ( Fools Fall in Love ), outlaws ( Letter to Laredo ), philosophy ( Roll Again ) and boozin' ( Suckin' a Big Bottle of Gin ), with flashes of blues, hard country and rockabilly. Long overdue.
He's never had a Top 10 single, none of his albums have gone platinum, and yet Joe Ely has carved a unique--and influential--niche for himself during nearly 25 years as a solo performer, most of them spent on MCA. His incomparable stories overflow with humanity and humor, not to mention an idiosyncratic West Texas perspective. He was "alt country" before the genre existed and can be justly credited as a fountainhead of that movement. This generously programmed set may not matter to hardcore Elyphiles who have everything he recorded. To the newcomer, however, these 20 songs--dating back to his first MCA album (Joe Ely
, 1977) and ending with his last (Twistin' in the Wind
, 1998)--are a compelling introduction, the music reflecting Texas's rich musical stew. Numbers like "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me" and "Me and Billy the Kid" wear well, and the inclusion of material from his two stunning live albums for MCA (Live Shots
, 1980, and Live at Liberty Lunch
, 1990) conveys his onstage presence. One may always quibble with selections on best-ofs, but short of a box set, this is an effective first look at his enduring vision. --Rich Kienzle