Album #403 – Honky Tonk Masquerade

Album #403

Joe Ely’s second album, Honky Tonk Masquerade, was a welcome break from punk rock. Ely’s brand of country was actually different from the mainstream at the time. Ely was rooted in the Lubbock, Texas music scene, having formed The Flatlanders with fellow songwriters Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock in the early 70’s. That group broke up in 1973 and all three members went solo until reuniting 29 years later. But, Gilmore and Hancock would collaborate and write songs for Ely throughout his solo career. Ely would go on to play with many musicians, including The Clash. He opened for them on their 1977 UK Tour and became good friends with front man Joe Strummer. Ely’s sound is a mixture of Western swing, honky tonk, country rock, country and folk. Ely doesn’t sing with as much of a twang as his contemporaries but, his songs sound fresh, warm and inviting. His voice is very simple yet, fits fight in with the country aesthetic.  The musicians he uses on this album, including pedal steel legend Lloyd Maines, Natalie Maines’, of The Dixie Chicks, father, are all accomplished, tight and add to the sound. I was expecting Ely to be another John Prine, but this album left me happy and a little surprised. I enjoyed this album and if your looking for the definition of country music, Honky Tonk Masquerade provides every possible answer. I have a new found respect for Ely and I hope to get into more of his music and The Flatlanders’ soon. Thankfully, Ely is still making music and touring, both solo and with The Flatlanders. Truly, one of country music’s underrated songwriters. A must listen. Highlights include: Cornbread Moon, Boxcars (the best song about trains I have ever heard), Jericho (Your Walls Must Come Tumbling Down), Honky Tonk Masquerade, Fingernails and a superb version of Hank Williams’ Honky Tonkin’. Overall, I give Honky Tonk Masquerade, 5 out of 5.

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