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Texan Joe Ely if he were a boxer he would have been a bare-knuckle pugilist. For his music is uncomplicated and raw. He doesn’t spar much as he prefers to go for a clear-cut winner. Here, on this twin set of work from 1987, 1988 (High Tone) respectively Ely is found blazing a trail rocking country style with his band of David Grissom (electric, acoustic guitar, harmony vocals) Davis McLarty (drums, percussion), Jimmy Pettit (bass, harmony vocals) with Bobby Keys (sax) and Mitch Watkins (keyboards, harmony vocals) added to the band for the first record. As for the second it is down to four with Ely on harmonica and percussion (no guitar this time) with Michael Ramos (keyboards), James Fenner (percussion) plus fellow singer-songwriter Rosie Flores and her band, The Neptunes on harmony vocals.
Recorded in Austin, Texas Ely’s work is wall to wall throughout. Road music if you will. The kind played in sweaty, blue-collar bars in his home state and not a million miles away from what he is doing now. Only here he has keyboards help give his music additional drive as he swings through, like a man wielding a scythe through long grass the likes of ‘Settle For Love’, ‘Dig All Night’ plus arguably the two best tracks on the album ‘Jazz Street’ and ‘Behind the Bamboo Shade’ (two really fine story ballads —the latter is a borderland’s tale). Oh, I almost forget but you just have to listen to Ely’s (Mitch Watkins with whom he wrote all cuts) ‘Maybe She’ll Find Me; set before simmering, restless as waves on the ocean electric guitar (the great Grissom) it possesses much poetic beauty amidst the passion and brooding music offered. It doesn’t get much better.
As for Lord Of The Highway it swings into action, good and early as the title-cut hits the boards running followed by the contemporary ‘(Don’t Put A) Lock On My Heart’; as his passion for music other than that coming out of Texas but England comes to the fore. Don’t forget he did become friends with the Clash and toured with them. Moving into the record it offers up one of his best ever-songs ‘Me And Billy The Kid’ plus you have fine offerings ‘My Baby Thinks She French’ (aided by keyboards, electric guitar etc), reflective gem ‘Silver City’, fun song and an upbeat ‘Are You Listenin’ Lucky?
Plus there is, loaded with dramatic build up and music as good as any on the set a rather special song. This is when Ely becomes lost in the wonderful lyrics of his friend and fellow Flatlander, Butch Hancock’s ‘Row Of Dominoes’. Captivating. Nothing less than! This of course isn’t the one and only time he has managed this with material penned by the incredible Hancock —he has a folder full for you to check out. Go, now! You had best get started for you are burning daylight.
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