Over the past 14 years, Joe Ely has earned a reputation as one of the forebears of that unique branch of Americana borne from the Great State of Texas. Both individually, and as part of the super band, The Flatlanders, he's carved out a career as an essential insurgent, one who once kept company with The Clash while establishing some decidedly cool credentials of his own.
While the title might suggest otherwise, the hastily released "Love in the Midst of Mayhem" finds Ely in a decidedly mellow and meditative mood. With a set list comprised of repurposed song fragments, some written as long as 30 years, which were then completed in a sudden spurt of inspiration and creativity, the album offered Ely an avenue for channeling his thoughts about the newly transformed world he found himself in as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications it's had on his life, attitude and work routine. It was, in a sense, a kind of therapy, and the fact that it was assembled so quickly and so seemingly spontaneously became a kind of catharsis and a way to stay productive when circumstance began limiting any other options.
Given that reflective circumstance, the songs are quiet, calming and remarkably assuring. "Soon All Your Sorrows Be Gone," "Garden of Manhattan," Don't Worry About It," "You Can Rely On Me" suggest that if there's not happiness on the horizon, there is at least reason for reassurance. They find Ely stepping back from the abyss and offering a means of mitigating the despair while finding room for calm and compassion.
Granted, effort and ambition alone may not be enough to overcome all the obstacles we find before us, but one thing is clear. Like the romantics always insist, love can conquer all, even if all the mayhem occasionally makes it hard to believe.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book, "Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound," is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.