Texas singer/songwriters tend to be a hardy breed, and Joe Ely is no exception; more than 25 years after he released his first album, the man remains a potent honky tonk poet following his own muse. Streets of Sin, his first studio set in five years, finds him paring back his sound much as he did on Letter to Laredo (though with a subtle but strong electric edge and a willingness to periodically up the tempo), for a collection of songs about people struggling along life's margins -- a family struggling to hold together a failing farm ("All That You Need"), a veteran carny drifting from show to show ("Carnival Bum"), a gambler desperate for a winning bet on a horse ("Run Little Pony"), and the people of a small town desperate to beat their retreat before a flood swallows their homes ("A Flood on Our Hands"). With the exception of two songs from Ely's gifted friend Butch Hancock, Ely wrote all of the material on Streets of Sin, and the disc has a thematic unity and musical consistency that's confident and compelling in its tightrope walk between emotional strength and the fear that collapse lurks around the corner. While it's a smart and ambitious album, Streets of Sin also finds Ely occasionally repeating himself and treading water in territories he's explored with more energy and fresher vision in the past. But while this isn't quite top-shelf Joe Ely, it still captures a superb singer and songwriter doing his work and doing it well, and if it isn't a masterpiece, anyone who has found something special in his work in the past will find some moments to revel in on Streets of Sin.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming