In the last twenty years, country music and the blues have fallen. What was brilliant and powerful has become stylized and posed. Lefty Frizzell and Little Walter no longer shatter their bottles against the stone gates of hell. In their stead, Larry Gatlin and Barry White paste fake flowers on the blouse of wonderment's corpse.
It's good to know there are a few men whose idea of music, rhythm and poetry precludes the spearmint clichés that have become country music's soul. Joe Ely is one of those men, and every time he sings, little... Read More
pieces of Johnny Duncan and Dolly Parton die.
The songs on Honky Tonk Masquerade sound stronger than those on Ely's first album. I think that's because Ely's voice, though it still lacks the dark magnificence of honky-tonk Homers like George Jones and Delbert McClinton, is stronger and more confident. You can detect a barroom slur and parry growing in Ely's style, like he's now singing to get laid as much as to achieve critical acclaim.
Joe Ely is a masterful writer, and much of his material shows it. To hear him liken his love to "the breeze that blows from Corpus Christi" ("Because of the Wind") or deny his pride without melodrama or even melancholy ("I'll Be Your Fool") is to understand the space between Honky Tonk Masquerade and almost anything else that has emerged recently from the microwave oven of Nashville.
Butch Hancockwho was one of the Flatlanders, an early, infamous Ely bandis the source of the haunting, sun-going-down rocker, "Boxcars," and the wrathful "Jericho (Your Walls Must Come Tumbling Down)." He's also the source of the LP's only dull moment, "West Texas Waltz," which might well be a lot of fun at a dance in Odessa, but here sounds like just another ten-gallon, dilettante burp.
The record closes, fittingly and frantically, with a version of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonkin' " that should convince all who listen that its author's will shall be avenged, and that the chosen shall walk upon the face of the South again, world without macramé, amen. (RS 269)