A sharp songwriter with the interpretive powers of a classic soul singer and the timbre of Jerry Lee Lewis in his prime, Joe Ely should be a country music icon. Then again, have the 30 years since Ely's first solo work produced a single Nashville-friendly face that doesn't cheapen fame? Ely's literate Texas music might not be cut out for mass consumption. Among his best covers are the mythically melancholy "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me," by Butch Hancock (a fellow member of Lubbock, Texas' Flatlanders), and a jittery version of "Not Fade Away" to rival the Stones'. But if there's anything about Ely that's underappreciated even by his fans, it's his own songwriting, from his outlaw saga "Crazy Lemon," about a hapless violin smuggler, to "St. Valentine," which sketches the patron saint of love as a failed romantic with a beat-up car. Tough, wistful and unmistakable, Ely is a treasure.
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