Release Date: Jun 7, 2011
Record label: Rackem Records
Genre(s): Country, Americana, Pop/Rock, Country-Rock, Progressive Country, Outlaw Country
The second song on Joe Ely's 2011 album Satisfied at Last is titled "Not That Much Has Changed," and it's hard not to think that sums up the album pretty well. That isn't an insult: Ely has been making records since 1972, he knows his craft well, and he's still one of the most consistently rewarding artists to come out of the Texas singer/songwriter community. His voice is in great shape on Satisfied at Last, he brings a genuine passion and soul to his performances in the studio, and his tales of outlaws and ramblers trying to make their way under the big sky of the Southwest are still resonant, intelligent, and down to earth.
After too many lean years, the Texan troubadour rediscovers the form that established him back in the 1980s. Now 64, Ely still sings with agility and swagger, though retrospection and mortality tie together the songs here. There's a rueful mood to "Not That Much Has Changed", about a soldier's return home, but mostly Ely's tone is philosophical. "The Highway is My Home" is defiant roadhouse rock, while the bluesy "I'm a Man Now" and scratchy reggae of "Roll Again" both shrug off the past.
Joe Ely has been releasing albums under his own name since the late 1970s, and the muses have typically been on his side. Like his frequent touring partner, John Hiatt, he’s never managed to strike with a commercial audience despite a canonization in singer-songwriter circles, his name always spoken in hushed, reverential tones wherever three or more are gathered with a guitar, a can of pork and beans, and a starlit night full of pickin’ and grinnin’. Ely, his fans, his peers, and maybe even his pets, have probably given up hope that he’ll ever achieve anything approaching commercial success, and that’s OK, but we’ve all come to expect that a bad Joe Ely album is probably better than a good album from some lesser although more visible artists.
Six-and-a-half decades into a life full of restless adventure played out on stages around the world, it’s good to hear Joe Ely proclaim he’s “Satisfied at Last.” But his title-song declaration that he’s happy with his lot hasn’t dulled his edge at all. He’s still a terrific songwriter, a dynamic performer and spot-on producer. For this album, Ely collected a hot list of Austin-area musicians to lend their chops, sometimes in surprising ways.
Satisfied at Last is being touted as a milestone in Joe Ely's decade-spanning oeuvre, and there's much to love in the old-dog leather bag of tricks he's carried throughout his travels. Packed with West Texas mythos, Ely's latest revisits the hardscrabble Lubbock poet and his ever romantic muse, the titles alone telling of the journey by a man looking back over his shoulder: "The Highway Is My Home," "Not That Much Has Changed," "You Can Bet I'm Gone. " And if Satisfied is indeed that, the next Ely album demands that someone challenge his music to a duel.