Any single-disc collection of Joe Ely's MCA material is bound to drive hardcore fans crazy -- as much for what's left off as what's included. But this set is, arguably pretty close to the grail when it comes to presenting a well-rounded and authoritative portrait of the artist as a young Lubbock song slinger. Most of the volumes in the Millennium collections are inconsistent, as well as being incomplete. While there are a few tracks left off this collection, no one can really quibble with what is here. Songwriters Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore are adequately represented here, in that songs like "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me," "Suckin a Big Bottle of Gin," "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," and "Dallas," became Ely signatures, though he didn't write them, and his performances paved the way for Gilmore's own mercurial recording career. (Hancock, for the most part, has preferred to remain a lone wolf and issue his own sides with few exceptions.) But Ely's own tunes, such as "Honky Tonk Masquerade," "Fingernails," and "Settle for Love," showcase him not only as a worthy and capable member of this songwriting triumvirate, but also as the one with the closest links to Buddy Holly and rock & roll. Ely's roots rock and rockabilly sensibilities have never been far form the foreground in his own writing, and they are on display in spades here. Also notable is his anthemic- -- and definitive -- version of Robert Earl Keen, Jr.'s "The Road Goes on Forever" that sounds like Ely playing arena rock -- thanks in no small part to David Grissom's killer guitar crunch. Form the earliest to the latest, Ely's long association with MCA is documented here in one tough, solid collection that cannot help but make listeners seek out his catalog if they don't already posses it.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek