Joe Ely

Settle for Love

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When Joe Ely left MCA for the first time after 1984's Hi-Res, he hid out for a few years before landing with Oakland blues and R&B label High Tone. It was a stretch for the label, and given Ely's new band, proved to be one for him as well. His Lubbock cum Austin country/rockabilly septet (which included Lloyd Maines, Jesse Taylor, and Ponty Bone) had been honed to a quartet that was built around young guitar slinger David Grissom and played Texas-brand rock & roll. Settle for Love compiles ten tracks from Ely's two High Tone outings, 1987's Lord of the Highway and 1988's Dig All Night, and adds a couple of bonus cuts to round it out to 12. The five tracks from the former include the Spanish-flavored "Row of Dominoes," the studio versions of his road staples "Are You Listenin', Lucky?" and "Me & Billy the Kid," and the amazing "Letter to L.A." This latter song offers an interesting view of Ely in transition; one can hear the influences of Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, with its epic length (for Ely), its winding guitar solo by Grissom, and the saxophone lines by guest Bobby Keys. Additionally, he wrote all but the title cut (by Butch Hancock). The five selections from Dig All Night are deeper in the rambling rock groove than its predecessor, as evidenced by its title track and the tough guitar crunch of "Settle for Love," with vocal backing by Rosie Flores and the Neptunes. The Springsteen/Mellencamp connection here is unmistakable, but Ely, despite his comparatively small recording budget, delivers the goods in spades, so much so that Grissom actually went on to join the Mellencamp band in the 1990s. These tracks are more cocksure and swaggering, and the touring Ely did behind these records in small venues all over the country displayed a rock & roll wildman who had something to prove. The final two numbers on this comp come from two disparate sources. First there is his version of Merle Haggard's "White Live Fever," done for Tulare Dust, a tribute to the songwriter, and then comes a duet with Flores on "Love and Danger" (the title of his return album for MCA) from her Once More With Feeling album. These are nice bonuses to be sure, but they were unnecessary; the real story lies in the power of Ely's music from his High Tone period.

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