Joe Ely

Letter to Laredo – 1995 (MCA)

Reviewed by Joel Bernstein

It' s hard to believe that it's been more than 18 years since the release of Ely's incredible debut album. That album literally changed the lives of those fortunate enough to hear it at the time. Since the release of the even more amazing follow-up, "Honky-Tonk Masquerade," Ely has had his ups and downs, musically and otherwise. His voice, once a truly magnificent instrument, has been ravaged by time and elements and is now only a cut above standard Texas troubadour. His songwriting, never a strength, has unfortunately become increasingly dominant on his discs. On the right material he is still great; here he does a version of Tom Russell's "Gallo Del Cielo" that may be the best ever done of that oft-recorded song. But there isn't a lot of right material this time around. Even Butch Hancock's "She Finally Spoke Spanish To Me" (the long unawaited sequel to an earlier classic) is ordinary, although the lyrics are cute. Bruce Gambill's "I Ain't Been Here Long" is good. The other eight tunes are Ely's, and only "Saint Valentine" and "That Ain't Enough" approach being memorable. By Ely standards, this is a very mediocre album, but that still beats a lot of other people's best.