The second song on Joe Ely's 2011 album Satisfied at Last is titled "Not That Much Has Changed," and it's hard not to think that sums up the album pretty well. That isn't an insult: Ely has been making records since 1972, he knows his craft well, and he's still one of the most consistently rewarding artists to come out of the Texas singer/songwriter community. His voice is in great shape on Satisfied at Last, he brings a genuine passion and soul to his performances in the studio, and his tales of outlaws and ramblers trying to make their way under the big sky of the Southwest are still resonant, intelligent, and down to earth. But while some Joe Ely albums find the man experimenting with his style or embracing a more ambitious concept, Satisfied at Last is 39 minutes of the man doing what he's been doing for a long time, and as a consequence, it's somewhat short on surprises. But plenty of artists in their mid-sixties who are nearly 35 years down the road from their first solo LP would be expected to sound as if they're just going through the motions, and that's not the case with Ely. These ten tales of life and love in hard times (seven are Ely originals, with others from friends and compatriots Butch Hancock and Billy Joe Shaver) reveal plenty of the wisdom Ely has earned with the passage of time, and Ely is fully engaged with his material, sounding eager to share what life has taught him. He also produced the set, and his studio band is tight, emphatic, and brings just the right personality to the tunes, while the audio is crisp and gives this material just as much space as he needs. So sure, not that much has changed; in 2011, Joe Ely is still one of the best things the Lone Star State has to offer, and Satisfied at Last shows he's not about to stop making albums worth hearing, and still finding things to say within the style he's made his own.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming