When you hear some artists' early demos, a phrase that might come to mind is, 'Well, they had great potential.' You won't say that, though, when you hear Joe Ely's demos for his first album, and some songs that later appeared on his third album. No, with "The Lubbock Tapes: Full Circle," you hear an artist that arrived fully formed and in his prime.
You can hear Ely's struggle to graduate from talented Texan, to Nashville (star hopeful) with the downhearted "Tennessee's Not the State I'm In." Ely, who approached creating country music with a Springsteen-like fervor, sounds more like a chip off the old Hank Williams block with "I'll Be Your Fool," which features the singer/songwriter vocalizing with a bit of yodel in his voice. "If You Were A Bluebird" proves Ely had already mastered the sad country song. One gets the impression Ely never needed to 'find his voice,' another phrase commonly applied to new artists.
Ely has always had a distinctively authoritative singing voice. There was an old TV commercial with the tagline, 'When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.' Similarly, whenever Ely sings, listeners are compelled to listen.
In a perfect world, Ely would be a mainstream legend by now, instead of merely a Texas icon. What the mainstream has missed, though, diehard fans have long recognized: Joe Ely is one of the truly great ones, and as "The Lubbock Tapes: Full Circle" proves, he exemplified overt greatness right out of the box.