Joe Ely

Dig All Night

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Joe Ely took three years between the release of his fourth studio album, Musta Notta Gotta Lotta (1981) and his fifth, Hi-Res (1984), then another three between that and his sixth, Lord of the Highway (1987), after putting out his first four in five years (1977-1981). His seventh studio album, Dig All Night, reverted to the old pace, following Lord of the Highway by only 15 months, and unlike his usual practice, it consisted entirely of his own compositions (the title song was co-written by Mitch Watkins); no covers of songs by his friends Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. It would be easy to suppose that the album consisted of trunk songs, however, since it presents Ely as a sturdy songwriting craftsman, but has little of the idiosyncratic imagination that sparks his best writing (e.g., "Me and Billy the Kid" from Lord of the Highway). There's nothing wrong with these songs (and some proved to be valuable copyrights when covered by others, such as Chris LeDoux, who took "For Your Love" into the country charts five years later). It's just that they aren't all that distinctive compared with earlier efforts. Musically, Ely, who for once does not play guitar on the album, leaving that entirely to David Grissom, is moving very much toward the mainstream Heartland rock of John Mellencamp and Tom Petty, notably on such tracks as "Dig All Night." He also recalls the style of the Rolling Stones on "Grandfather Blues" and "I Didn't Even Do It." The Tex-Mex death ballad "Behind the Bamboo Shade" retains some of the flavor of his earlier work. But much of this is the sort of music that, if marketed properly, could appeal to a wide swath of classic rock fans.

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