Joe Ely

REVIEW: Joe Ely “Flatland Lullaby”


Joe Ely – Flatland Lullaby

Through the years I found an interesting common thread in the musical challenges & quality between Lyle Lovett, Clint Black, Michelle Shocked, Webb Wilder, Steve Earle & Joe Ely. Something eccentric yet significant in their respective repertoires. It had something to do with their insistent imaginative creativity in a genre that can be stuffy, resistant & if you don’t conform – it’s the $1.99 bin.

These were artists that tasted like dark chocolate & salty potato chips. They were the malt in the malted milk. The worm in the mezcal. Some would say they were for selective tastes. So what? Filet mignon, caviar, Jackson Pollack & Chet Baker were for selective tastes too.


Coming from the top shelf of the family reserve as its aptly described in the press release these 11 songs are of a varied pedigree. From the brass sweetened “Wake Up Sunshine,” to the more traditional sounding “Milk Maid,” (writing the song began in Germany). Ely doesn’t shy from anything. “The Gypsy Lady,” has a structure & lyrical approach to my ears that is close to the compositional classics written & performed by the late Dory Previn. I hear her distinctive shadings, intonation & phrasing wonderfully throughout. Maybe it wasn’t intentional but it is a striking Ely song because of those qualities. Dory played with the likes of Waddy Wachtel, Joe Osborne, Ronnie Tutt, Bernie Leadon & Carol Kaye.

Ely gets back to being Joe Ely with the traditional “Woody Knows Nothin’” followed by Guthrie’s own “Riding In My Car,” with Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The 39-minute set Flatland Lullaby (Drops Oct 21–Rock ‘Em Records) was recorded in Austin as far back as 1984. A private collection shared with others & encouraged by his daughter Marie (the cover child) who convinced Joe to share these songs finally with the world.

Joe Ely

Essentially Ely has done what Woody did. Recorded well-written & performed songs for children. “Old Mr. Ghost,” has a charming children’s chorus reminiscent of the late Harry Nilsson’s hilarious “I’d Rather Be Dead,” with its amateur chorus of authentic senior citizens recorded at a rest home. It’s all about authenticity.

The set includes name artists. Butch Hancock, Kimmie Rhodes, guitarists Mitch Watkins & David Grissom, Lloyd Maines (steel guitar), Richard Bowden (fiddle), Gene Elders (violin), Paul Glass (mandolin), Davis McLarty (drums) & Jimmie Pettit & Roscoe Beck (basses). 

Joe Ely

An accessible, naturally conceived & well-crafted album. “Flatland Lullaby,” concludes the LP with a beautiful Beatles-worthy melody & performance. There’s lively music available that’s not always evident on mainstream radio. You just have to look & listen for it. This almost slipped away…almost. Highlights – “Milk Maid,” “The Gypsy Lady,” “Wake Up Sunshine,” “Woody Knows Nothin’,” “Old Mr. Ghost,” “Love & Happiness For You,” & “Flatland Lullaby.”

Piano photo courtesy of Matthew Fuller. B&W image by Mark Seliger. CD @ Barnes & Noble + Amazon &

Enjoy our previous coverage here:  INTERVIEW: Joe Ely Talks About The Inspiration For His New Album “Love In The Midst Of Mayhem”

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