Joe Ely: Panhandle Rambler

West Texas troubadour rocks the roadhouse.

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Amarillo’s Joe Ely can usually be relied upon to conjure up the poetry of the plains, his best songs being heart-of-the-matter tales that alternate between aching romance and a dose of bleak.

At his best, as on the opening track Wounded Creek, he locates both moods, conjuring up a snapshot of the flatlands that’s as packed with detail as any Bruce Springsteen folk song.

Lovely flamenco guitars, the slightest rhythms and subtle splashes of steel guitar and accordion are the backdrop for a voice that remains as pristine as when he made his mark in Blighty touring with The Clash.

Ely doesn’t really sing in the vernacular either. His version of Guy Clark’s Magdalene is urbane compared to the original. Old wingmen Butch Hancock and Jimmy Dale Gilmore are recalled on When The Nights Are Cold but the rest is all Ely and his take on outcast and forgotten characters, brought back to heroic life. Ramble on…

Max Bell worked for the NME during the golden 70s era before running up and down London’s Fleet Street for The Times and all the other hot-metal dailies. A long stint at the Standard and mags like The Face and GQ kept him honest. Later, Record Collector and Classic Rock called.