It is not unusual for a veteran artist to go back into his archives and come up with old songs he wrote many years back to present anew to his public, especially when that artist has come to form his own independent record company. Joe Ely founded Rack ‘Em Records in 2007 and here issues Silver City, its artwork including photographs of him as a young man, including one marked "Lubbock c.1967," the year he turned 20. The scant annotations, meanwhile, contain the subtitle, "Pearls from the Vault, Vol. 1." The presumption, therefore, would be that the album's contents date back to that period, long before Ely's successful solo career and even before his participation in the Flatlanders. The compositions, indeed, may go back that far, but it turns out that the actual recordings are new; the 60-year-old Ely is re-creating the work of his 20-year-old self. To do so, he sings and plays acoustic guitar, sometimes overdubbing more vocals, more guitars, harmonica, and percussion. Occasionally, Joel Guzman's accordion joins in. The songs lean a bit more toward storytelling than in Ely's later work, whether he is addressing history in "Wounded Knee," or telling the tale of an "Indian Cowboy" who saved lives at a circus. He also sings in the first person, sometimes launching into a shaggy dog story, such as the lengthy closer, "Billy Boy," or the phantasmagorical "Drivin' ‘Cross Russia," which anticipates later absurdist fables like "Me and Billy the Kid" and, as it happens, is set to the same tune. While nothing here is quite up to the standard of Ely's mature songwriting, he does show early talent as a writer, especially with a veteran singer to perform his material.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann