Texas maverick Ely will never top his own Honky Tonk Masquerade
(1978), a seminal album that defines the best of the Lone Star school of songwriting-and-swagger. But at 60, his quavering vocal remains as urgent, skittish, and distinctive as ever, and he's still a free-flowingly eclectic writer, as capable of a sweet, affecting Cajun love song ("Little Blossom") as an erotic and insinuating blues tune ("July Blues"). Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch
is a misleading title for this group of 10 originals and a lively cover of compatriot Butch Hancock's "Firewater," for most of Ely's protagonists carry an air of desperation, either hustling for love or money (the excellent "Jesse Justice," a tough-edged portrait of an itinerant pool shark), or gripping the windowsill of life with grimy fingertips. Too many of the songs here ultimately disappoint--"Miss Bonnie and Mr. Clyde," one of Ely's epic outlaw ballads, is as shot full of holes as the real-life bandits, and "Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes," about the displaced victims of Katrina, fails to elicit either the outrage or the poignancy it seeks. But the hardest-working live entertainer in Texas always finds a way to charm his listener. "Sue Me Sue" wears out its refrain way too soon, yet in laying a "She's About a Mover" riff over some early Elvis rockabilly, the Lubbock Kid connects all the right musical--and emotional--dots. --Alanna Nash
Joe Ely awakes from a dream of riding the Pecos with Lilly Langtry on a dirt-bike Harley with dual rifle scabbards and gunning down Judge Roy Bean. As he focuses his waking senses, Ely once again is surrounded by the womb-like motions and sounds of a moving rented tour bus; or is it a jet plane, or the backseat of a taxi, or a freight boxcar? The place is always different but the motion is familiar to Joe Ely, always about to be born into a new adventure. Ely shares kaleidoscopic recollections of his adventures on the road in the songs from his new album Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch. And like the sure return of a comet, Joe Ely hits the road early 2007 with fellow travelers Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, and John Hiatt. For more than thirty years, Ely has performed in thousands of cities in scores of countries, has crossed hundreds of borders, frequently with incident and travails beyond his control. He has stowed away on freight trains and ferries, hitchhiked with poets, hoboes, outlaws and hard-luck saints, and he has cruised in limos and cabs....