Live at Antones
Rounder Records Corp.
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Former Flatlander Joe Ely, is in his element in Live at Antones, recorded at the legendary Austin club last year. |
Hotter than a rock in the west Texas sun, this disc rolls between classic country themes, breaks into Latin rhythms and never stops gut-punching! Power-packed with adrenaline, even the slow numbers leave you reeling; simple story lines evoking every emotion known to man. Although he covers a few numbers by fellow former Flatlanders (Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) and others, most were written by Ely, as original as the man himself.
Framed by experienced sidemen, Ely is surrounded by rich, authentic sound: 'El Gitano Punky,' Teye's familiar flamenco guitar strains, Lloyd Maines on steel and accordion antics by Joel Guzman all add to the Tex-Mex feel. Rafael O'Malley Gayol on drums/percussion and Gary Herman's omnipresent bass lines are the glue that hold this manic mosaic together. From mariachi to two-step, they carry it off with confidence! Ely's own acoustic fretwork creates fireworks and when he plugs in his electric he sets the stage on fire!
The disc opens with The Road Goes On Forever, a classic outlaw tune borrowed from the father of dark story-songs, Robert Earl Keen, Jr. And only Ely could do a love-song with the energy of a dust-devil, as in All Just to Get to You (#2). Cut #3, Gallo de Cielo (Heavenly Rooster?) really IS a story about a fighting cock, but of course, Ely weaves it into a rich tale about recovered land and honor, and sisters named Teresa. He sings of Ranches and Rivers (#4), whines about Workin' for the Man (#5), and boasts about bestin' a bandit in Me and Billy the Kid (#6). Can you get any more Texas that that?
Some of the finest guitar work around can be heard in Up On the Ridge (#7). If slow dancing with your baby on Saturday night is more to your liking, track #8, Rock Salt and Nails, is sure to get you belly-rubbin'. Ely's cover of this tune by folk icon Bruce "Utah" Phillips does the master proud. Stay on the dance-floor while you're out there, 'cause a lyrical look at life, spiced by a sassy salsa beat in Nacho Mama (#9) will have you steppin' with the best of 'em. The double entendre makes this song a blast of intelligent fresh air!
Jimmie Dale's Dallas (track #10) features Ely plugged in and tearin' it up followed by six minutes of slow sad lament of lost love, in Thousand Miles From Home (#11). Teye's stringed intricacy winds throughout the number, ending with an extended solo so beautiful it leaves you breathless! Butch Hancock's Road Hawg (#12) becomes an audience participation number when Ely's live, so we're treated (more than once) to outbursts of rowdy crowd, sounding more like the subjects of the next cut (#13) when Everybody Got Hammered. The repetitious chorus and no verses (to speak of) make this one drag on a little long, despite the raucous party mood. Same with the swing number that follows, My Eyes Got Lucky. Lucky for us, the disc ends on an up note, a very upbeat rocker to be exact, written by Norman Petty, Bill Tilghman and Sonny West called Oh Boy! (#15).
Ely's style defies typecasting. The musicHound Folk Essential Album Guide (copyright 1998, Visible Ink Press) called his stuff 'new wave honky tonk' that 'baffled the country music establishment... too rock for country, too country for rock.' The author of the article, Doug Pullen, insists that's the reason Ely's never hit it big in mainstream music circles. I say it's because Nashville has lost its knack for nabbing true talent to make mainstream!
Nope, Ely's not in Nashville, and good for him! He's in Austin for Live at Antones where we can all be treated to the musician at his home-turf best. Like the guy yelling from the back of the room, "We love ya, Joe!"