In the rock ’n’ roll era, the vast spaces of West Texas have been filled with great music. Joe Ely stands in a tradition born out on these gritty plains. It includes Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Tanya Tucker, Guy Clark, Delbert McClinton, Don Walser, Terry Allen, Lloyd Maines, his daughter Natalie Maines, and Joe’s enduring musical partners, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
It is a land where you can see for miles and miles and miles. Only those who don’t know it find it barren. For it’s full of stories if you know where to seek them. And it has customs and amusements all its own. Even the forever dipping oil wells have their role. “In high school, we used to get somebody to buy us a six pack and go out there to the fields and ride the front part of those oil pumps all night long,” Joe remembers.
Now, Ely lives in Austin and spends much of his life on the road. But when he’s accumulated enough song ideas, Lubbock is where Joe heads. “Somehow, just driving for hours down those country roads is still the best place for me finish my songs.”
Panhandle Rambler is one of the most personal albums Joe Ely’s ever made. It brings forth this terrain, the spirited people it produces and that special sense of destiny, be it terrible or glorious, that its very vastness creates. “Wounded Creek” starts the album with what you might call a Western fantasy, except that the “bushes and the brambles,” the traffic light, the stray dog and the cold wind are all completely brought to life.
“Sometimes, when I was a kid, you’d look outside and the only things you’d see would be these huge radio towers, must have been fifty of a hundred feet tall, just swaying in the wind,” Joe said. “Wonderin’ Where,” perhaps Panhandle Rambler’s most beautiful melody, pays tribute those trembling towers, the railroads which carried other things equally unimaginable distances, the “cross between a river and a stream” where he played, and the dreams and nightmares that flitted across that kid’s mind and heart, and the loneliness of bearing such secrets. If it is possible to write a love song for a place, this is one of the great ones, “trying to find a verse that’s never been sung to hearts that need relief.”
“Here’s to the Weary” is the story of all the great musical refugees, from Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and Muddy Waters to the rockabillies — Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, the shadows of the others — who soothed our “weary and restless souls” with nighttime musical magic.
It’s also typical of all the songs on the album. The place doesn’t necessarily al- ways win, but, as in “Magdalene” and “Coyotes are Howlin’,” it’s the one thing that carries a sense not so much of permanence as of inevitably. The two sides are fully summarized in the almost giddy “Southern Eyes” and the fatalistic “Early in the Mornin’.”
Of course, every Lubbocker album needs its legendary tales. Here that terri- tory is covered by “Four Ol’ Brokes,” which combines a hobo yarn with the bal- lad of a gambling scam, and “Burden of Your Load,” in which true love triumphs over evil, if just barely, we hope.
Equally legendary, but true in every respect, is the closing song, “You Saved Me,” which is a love song to Joe’s wife, Sharon. The lyric never mentions her name, but no one who’s known Joe Ely longer than about a day could mistake her.
Legendary tales and legendary musicians. Panhandle Rambler, largely re- corded in Austin, features some of the most respected local musicians: drummer Davis McClarty, guitarists Lloyd Maines and Robbie Gjersoe, Jeff Plankenhorm, and Gary Nicholson, bassist Glen Fukunaga. There were also Nashville sessions, with Music City’s usual superb playing, led by guitarist Gary Nicholson. Joe wrote all but two of the songs: “Magdalene” by Guy Clark and Ray Stephenson, and “When the Nights are Cold” by his original Flatlanders sidekick Butch Hancock.
This is a classic Joe Ely album. It has moved me, every time I’ve heard it, with a certain kind of awe. One reason is that, long before you hear “You Saved Me,” he put everything he has into telling the world about a place in the world, and through that, reaching his own emotional center. It’s beautiful and it’s inspiring. — Dave Marsh July 25, 2015
Already a rising Americana artist when he took Charlie Robison’s advice to audition for TV’s “Nashville Star,” john Arthur martinez wound up beating Miranda Lambert for second place. A recording contract and Grand Ole Opry debut followed, along with appearances internationally on stages shared with artists including Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Jack Ingram and Joel Guzman. But his heart remains in Texas, where he honed his chops at Cheatham Street Warehouse while earning his degree in English and broadcast journalism (his lowercased letters pay homage to poet e.e. cummings; the uppercase “A” acknowledges the middle name he’s used since attending a John-filled kindergarten class). Martinez’s desire to nurture music education in his Marble Falls community led to the creation of FiestaJAM.
Womack was a member of ’90s band Sons of the Desert, who were heard on Lee Ann Womack’s hit, “I Hope You Dance”(there’s no relation). He also co-penned Kenny Chesney’s No. 1 hit, “She’s Got It All,” and eight other top-10 hits, including Keith Urban’s “Raining on Sunday,” Tim McGraw’s “Red Ragtop” and Rascal Flatts’ “God Bless the Broken Road.” He’s also collaborated with Pat Green, Paul Thorn, Cory Morrow, Aaron Watson and other Texas-connected artists.
Tyler S. Smith Singer-songwriter Tyler S. Smith, of Austin, Texas, brings his full band sound to FiestaJAM by winning the online voting part of the Battle of the Bands competition. He says his goal is to be different then other artists and to share his faith-based experiences with the world through his original music.
KATTL KATTL is a new band based in Bandera, Texas, that plays a style of music the band calls “Heavy Leather” or “cowboy rock” — think the country side of ZZ Top and Thin Lizzy or the rocking side of Waylon Jennings and Chris Ledoux. The band’s first single “Hellbent For Mexico” was released on iTunes and to Texas Radio this summer with a new EP, Groundswell, slated for release later this year.
Katie Kirby Singer-songwriter Katy Kirby is a Hill Country native.
Lucas Johnson Band Lead by 18-year-old guitarist/singer/songwriter Lucas Johnson, from Spicewood, Texas, the Lucas Johnson trio feature Ru Coleman on bass and Rene Lopez on drums. The band holds two weekly residencies, Tuesday night at Poodie’s Roadhouse on Hwy. 71 and Thursday night at Cooper’s BBQ in Austin.