Music

Joe Ely: Satisfied at Last

There's a reason that one man sang that he couldn't get no satisfaction, and another that he couldn't be satisfied -- because satisfaction doesn't make for interesting art, as evidenced by Joe Ely's first studio release in four years.


Joe Ely

Satisfied at Last

Label: Rack 'Em Up
US Release Date: 2011-06-07
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

Joe Ely has been releasing albums under his own name since the late 1970s, and the muses have typically been on his side. Like his frequent touring partner, John Hiatt, he’s never managed to strike with a commercial audience despite a canonization in singer-songwriter circles, his name always spoken in hushed, reverential tones wherever three or more are gathered with a guitar, a can of pork and beans, and a starlit night full of pickin’ and grinnin’. Ely, his fans, his peers, and maybe even his pets, have probably given up hope that he’ll ever achieve anything approaching commercial success, and that’s OK, but we’ve all come to expect that a bad Joe Ely album is probably better than a good album from some lesser although more visible artists.

The trouble is, Satisfied at Last is a weak album, period, whether it bears the name Joe Ely or Joe Blow. Maybe it’s telling that one of the tracks is “Not That Much Has Changed”. Although it’s probably not Ely’s acknowledgement of artistic resignation, it sure sounds like a man who isn’t working very hard to up his game. There are boarded-up windows, ways of life fading, easy rhymes, and predictable guitar licks aplenty, but nothing that distinguishes the tune from a bajillion other observations of aching and aging. “Satisfied at Last” features a troubadour looking back at his trials, tribulations, and contemplating the moment when he moves from this world to the next -- it’s predictable enough that you can almost hear the guitars rolling their eyes with each chord and the microphones yawning in disbelief.

The same might be said for “Live Forever”, in which Ely sings about crossing the river -- and not the Llano or the Colorado. It’s full of sage advice as Ely struggles to sound profound while he plays the part of a man slowly moving toward his twilight years. He musters a faulty chorus that gets repeated one too many times in a slender three minutes, but there’s nothing in this Billy Joe Shaver-penned song that is worthy of Ely at his best. There’s also the half-baked reggae number “Roll Again”, which isn’t worthy of a band playing a back alley pizza joint on a Tuesday night, let alone one of the giants of American songwriting. Equally forgettable is “I’m a Man Now”, an attempt at swamp blues that only winds up sound like a man stranded in the woods with his foot in the mud.

But this is Joe Ely, and like Merle Haggard, John Hiatt, and Willie Nelson, he can always muster at least one or two tunes that remind us why we love him in the first place -- and those moments here are “Mockingbird Hill”, a song that most writers would give their careers to receive, and the closing “Circumstance”, which says in five minutes what Ely spends more than 25 minutes trying to say elsewhere on the album.

This is Ely’s first studio outing in four years, but let’s hope that it’s not quite so long between this and his next one, and let’s hope that next time he’s a little less satisfied and a whole lot hungrier. Most artists are at their best when they have something to prove rather than something to celebrate.

3
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.

Film

The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Books

'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.

Music

2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.

Books

'Lie With Me': Beauty, Love and Toxic Masculinity in the Gay '80s

How do we write about repression and toxic masculinity without valorizing it? Philippe Besson's Lie With Me is equal parts poignant tribute and glaring warning.

Music

Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.

Music

Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers Merge Haitian Folk and Electronic Music on 'Vodou Alé'

Haitian roots music meets innovative electronics on Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers' Vodou Alé.

My Favorite Thing

Weird and Sweet, Riotous and Hushed: The Beatles' 'The White Album'

The Beatles' 'The White Album' is a piece of art that demonstrates how much you can stretch, how far you can bend, how big you really are. The album is deeply weird. It has mass. It has its own weather.

Music

Sarah Jarosz Finds Inspiration in Her Texas Roots on 'World on the Ground'

By turning to her roots in central Texas for inspiration on World on the Ground, Sarah Jarosz has crafted some of her strongest songs yet.

Music

Hinds' 'The Prettiest Curse' Is One of Victory

On The Prettiest Curse, Hinds create messy pop music that captures the vibrancy of youth without being childish.

Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.