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Joe Ely

Streets Of Sin – 2003 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Brian Steinberg

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CDs by Joe Ely

Joe Ely is back with this latest compendium of roustabouts and runaways. After having drawn on Tex-Mex inspiration for his last few studio albums, like "Letter to Laredo," Ely appears to have moved on to simple tale telling.

Songs like "I'm On The Run Again" and the jaunty "95 South" revive his yen for spinning a yarn while backing lyrics up with muscular musical backing. Meanwhile, "Carnival Bum" adds mystery to the mix, with Ely taking on the tone of private detective while telling the story of life that "goes round and round" without his love. "Run Little Pony" sounds like a nice little run, except for the fact that the hero of the song can't stop spending his money on the horse in the title. Also part of the mix, a ripping read-through of fellow Flatlander Butch Hancock's "Fightin' For My Life."

Ely seems to be enjoying life's simpler pleasures. After appearing last year with his longtime friends Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore as The Flatlanders, he now turns to his own music. It's something of a relief to hear him not getting bogged down in some of the studio trappings that have inhabited some recent discs. It's not a knock, but Ely has always sounded better when he's heavy on the meat and potatoes, but light on the gravy.

This album is easily Ely's leanest in some time, lacking a lot of production layers while still delivering clean Texas campfire stories.