Joe Ely, “Panhandle Rambler” (Rack ‘Em Records)
“Panhandle Rambler” is set in West Texas, where train and radio stations stir the imagination, and a traffic light is worthy of note. Amarillo native Joe Ely brings the region to life like few other songwriters can, and this 12-tune set ranks with the best work of his 45-year career.
The stark beauty of the arrangements mirrors the topography of the topics, with wide open spaces filled by Spanish guitar or Joel Guzman’s graceful accordion, which billows like the clouds Ely describes.
At the center of it all is the Texan’s tumbleweed tenor, “trying to find a verse that’s never been sung,” as he puts it. He succeeds by describing a land of hobos and dreams. Along with geography, he offers lessons on math (“Burden of Your Load”), economics (“Four Ol’ Brokes”) and chemistry (“When the Nights Are Cold”). Ely knows his subject, and “Panhandle Rambler” is an enjoyable education.
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