Two records into his career, Joe Ely was riding a creative high with his eclectic Southwest mix, that stretches from Amarillo, Lubbock and Austin, east to Louisiana. Produced by folk-rock maven, Bob Johnston (Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel) and released in 1979, Down on the Drag came with high expectations. However, with all of the elements seemingly in place, including his crack band and a handful of contributions from pal Butch Hancock, Down on the Drag never quite achieves the lofty standard set by its predecessors. Hancock, who has been Ely's favorite source for outside tunes, picks up right where the classic Honky Tonk Masquerade left off, delivering the album's best songs, but only the loser's lament, "Crazy Lemon," truly stands out among Ely's originals. Furthermore, while Ely, who possesses a commanding if somewhat limited voice, may be able to redeem the otherwise unspectacular swamp rock of "Crawdad Train," yet he fails to do the same for his ballads, which don't really stay with you like his earlier "Because of the Wind" or "Honky Tonk Masquerade." And while Ely and his band are as good as ever, they suffer at times from Johnston's production, which lacks the same spark and crispness that Chip Young brought to the previous two recordings. Still, while Down on the Drag may suffer in comparison to Joe Ely's extraordinary past work, it holds up well enough alongside the rest of his catalog.
AllMusic Review by Brett Hartenbach