JOE ELY himself will be the first to tell you 2003’s Streets of Sin, his first studio album in five years, marked a changed man, a restless, creative soul hungry to get back to the ol’ Joe. “I used to take what was on stage and try to translate that into a recording,” he has explained.
Streets of Sin was all about songs and the singer-songwriter who has learned to love the studio and find refuge in it, and the musician who plays more guitar than on any previous recording. The album’s songs are the kind of small stories that resonate and ring true in the larger world.
The Flatlanders, the band Ely started in 1972 with his South Plains co-conspirators Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, inspired the return to the basics. Reuniting, recording their first album in 30 years, and touring coast to coast and overseas brought it all back home for Ely, who has covered a lot of ground in his time. He really has ridden the rails (in a circus train, no less), thumbed his way across the country, hopped boats to exotic foreign lands, and ridden horses across the prairie. All part of the relentless quest for revelation that only a journey can satisfy. Those sort of restless yearnings come naturally to a boy from Lubbock, Texas, where the flat dusty landscape, endless sky and vast horizons have inspired several generations of young creative types to fill up all that empty space with music, as Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and Roy Orbison did, all the way to the Lubbock Mob consisting of Ely and his compadres Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Terry Allen. Like them, Joe Ely has proved to himself before he proved to a growing number of faithful that when it comes to the mystical process of writing, singing, and performing music, there’s no pretending or holding back.
The first milestone was a band called the Flatlanders, formed in Lubbock by Ely, Hancock, and Gilmore. Their visionary melding of country, rock, and fold immediately pegged them as three singer-songwriters who were ahead of their time and way too experimental for Nashville. Next came the Joe Ely Band, Joe’s own ensemble who once again mixed country and rock elements into something new and completely different. Recently Ely has been an ongoing member of the Los Super 7 collective, has been performing as a duo with the Grammy-winning accordion player Joel Guzman, and has produced the new Jimmie Dale Gilmore album Come on Back.
Throughout his career, Joe Ely has remained a Texas original. With a body of work spanning nearly 20 albums, thousands of live performances, and hundreds of thousands of miles on the road over four decades, Ely needs no introduction. (Compiled from material by Joe Nick Patoski on Joe Ely’s website.)