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Live Cactus!

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Album Review

Live Cactus! is the most intimate of Joe Ely recordings. For those not familiar with Austin, the Cactus Café is a longstanding venue that has played host to every major Americana songwriter of the last 30 years, and then some. It's not as precious as Nashville's Bluebird, but it is a proving-ground room, one where songwriters pay their own money to see their peers. It is also a place that many Texas songwriters — like Ely, Butch Hancock, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Alejandro Escovedo, and dozens of others — feel at home. This set features Ely with accordionist Joel Guzman as his lone accompanist. It is an acoustic date, and there aren't any real honky tonk tunes and absolutely no rockers. It is also electrifying because it presents Ely without his bigger-than-life persona. What comes across is a man who works at his craft as a writer, presenting his work with all manner of attendant stories and monologues left in so the listener is fully allowed into that room. What's more, it contains the "sound" of a live recording. There isn't anything perfectly digital here. You hear what you would have heard being there. And it feels great. The material ranges from early originals such as "Because of the Wind" to later gems like "Letter from Laredo," "Miss Bonnie and Mr. Clyde," and the killer "All Just to Get to You," written by Ely with Charlie Sexton. There are also three carefully chosen covers — Hancock's "Wind's Gonna Blow You Away," which is as about as Lubbock as you are going to get; Randy Banks' deeply moving "Where Is My Love"; and the album's final cut, a stirring, wild rambling version of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues," with Ely's voice just about shot, and appropriately so. He gave it everything here, and if you are remotely interested in the man as a writer, this one's for you.


Born: 09 February 1947 in Amarillo, TX

Genre: Country

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Country-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Ely was born Earle R. Ely on February 9, 1947, in Amarillo, Texas. His family had worked for the Rock Island Line railroad dating back to the start of the century. When he was 12, the family moved to Lubbock, Texas, where his father ran a used clothing store. Inspired by seeing Jerry Lee Lewis perform when he was a child, Ely aspired to a musical career, and he briefly took violin and steel guitar lessons before turning to the guitar. His father died when...
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