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Joe Ely 

Streets of Sin (Rounder)

By any objective standard, Joe Ely's latest album is a solid, intelligent piece of work, brimming with Texas wisdom and guilt-free twang. "Fightin' for My Life" sports striking couplets such as "I used to read the Bible and Paradise Lost/Now it looks like everybody's been gettin' double-crossed," and Ely sings them with the steely authenticity he's spent several decades honing. Ely demonstrates his narrative skills on the title cut, a heartfelt slab of electric folk, in which the protagonist is certain he can make it back home by closing time, as long as he can "hitch a ride on a DC-9."

So where's the rub? For one thing, a DC-9 is the same type of plane feted in "Dallas," a Jimmie Dale Gilmore composition that Ely delivers so indelibly on Musta Notta Gotta Lotta, a 1981 long-player that's among his finest recordings. And so it goes, throughout Sin: The CD sports some fairly rote turns ("Run Little Pony," "Carnival Bum"), but even the impressive tracks, such as "Twisty River Bridge," bring to mind earlier, meatier, more deeply satisfying offerings.

For those who haven't committed Ely's oeuvre to memory, such issues are superfluous. A person fortunate to be starting at square one will probably like the platter just the way it is, completely unaware that it represents mid-level Joe, rather than a high-water mark.

More by Michael Roberts

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