Honky Tonk Masquerade

Joe Ely

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Honky Tonk Masquerade Review

by Mark Deming

As strong as Joe Ely's self-titled solo debut was, his second album, 1978's Honky Tonk Masquerade, actually managed to top it, and the album remains one of the great creative triumphs of the Texas singer/songwriter community, as well as a high-water mark in Ely's career. Displaying a very Texan sense of eclecticism, Honky Tonk Masquerade's ten tunes run the gamut from beer-stained weepers (the title cut) and late-night declarations of loneliness ("Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown") to barrelhouse rock & roll ("Fingernails") and honky tonk dance numbers ("West Texas Waltz" and "Cornbread Moon"), and Ely's simple but expressive delivery makes the most of every song he sings. Ely's band deserves a special nod as well, especially steel guitarist Lloyd Maines and Ponty Bone on accordion, who can seemingly conjure up an orchestra or a horn section at will. And as strong as Ely's songs are, he has the good sense to also accept contributions from fellow ex-Flatlanders Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, whose more introspective lyrical approach makes for a satisfying contrast to Ely's more down to earth style. Smart without sounding pretentious, and musically ambitious without losing focus or drive, Honky Tonk Masquerade is a superb album that captures Ely and his band at their best.

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