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Ely wears well

Club Passim, Boston, November 17, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Joe Ely is the prototypical rambler. It comes through in his music and in his life. There are lots of elements in the music about travels, riding the rails, small town scenery and getting away from it.

In fact, after playing "I'm Gonna Strangle You Shorty" as the first song of his encore, Ely opined, "The only thing I got out of high was that damn song. It's the truth. All I needed was a ticket out of town."

And, fortunately, the 68-old Texan managed to make it to the Greater Boston area for the first time in about five years with his fine new "Panhandle Rambler" behind him.

Ely may have been around for more than three decades and has a gray tint to his hair at this stage, but he wears his age well. Ely ventured on stage with only an acoustic guitar in hand. And sat on a stool for the duration of the show playing his own material and that of a few compadres.

Ely spent a good portion of his 90 minutes playing before a sold-out crowd (comprised mainly of an older generation since he long ago abandoned hopes of scoring radio play) playing songs from the new disc in a freewheeling setlist-free set. In fact, he took a number of requests from the crowd (yes, there was even the lame "Free Bird" request). One of the best was The Flatlanders' "Borderless Love," (of which he's a member with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) which he said was particularly poignant these days, given the immigration issues around the world.

The "Panhandler Rambler" material stood up well next to the older songs. The more upbeat "Early in the Mornin'" and the slower "Coyotes Are Howlin'" were particular standouts from the new release.

While there was no "The Road Goes on Forever" on this evening, he did cover Gilmore's "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown" (although Gilmore's haunting voice outshines Ely's), "Live Forever" from Billy Joe Shaver and Hancock's "If You Were a Bluebird." His own take on "Dallas" (as a payback of sorts, Gilmore did a fine recording of the song) was superb.

Ely's voice has aged quite well. Ely's often twangy vocal delivery remained ever present and went hand-in-hand with the geographical elements of his material.

Ely loosened up as the evening wore on in talking about the songs and other things on his mind in a genial, friendly setting. In fact, this was the closing night of two months out on the road. Ely was certainly not showing the worse for wear or looking to dial it in to get back to Austin area home. On this night again, Ely rambled on.