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Pat Green and Joe Ely - CD Reviews

By David Okamoto, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Since the days of Waylon and Willie and the boys, Texas country music acts have been branded as renegades whenever they cross the Mississippi into Nashville. It's an easy marketing hook, but as the years go by, the image of the Lone Star rebel battling the evil country music empire grows less relevant and tougher to live up to - try too hard and before you know it, you're scoring more headlines for bashing the President than busting up the Billboard charts.

This week, new hard-rocking albums by Austin-based upstart Pat Green and Amarillo-raised veteran Joe Ely remind us that what makes Texans stand apart from the Nashville mainstream and its cottage industry of session musicians and hook-for-hire songwriters is their respect for rock n' roll's roots in country music and their staunch allegiance to a simple work ethic: write your own songs, record them with your own band, and then hit the road with a vengeance.

[Pat Green's "Poetry"]

Wave on Wave, Pat Green's second CD since graduating from Texas dancehalls to Universal Records, oozes with the cloud-clearing gusto of a 31-year-old caught in the moment of living his dream. Still a hero on fraternity row, the Texas Tech grad has toned down the Robert Earl Keen mannerisms and party-hardy cheerleading of his past albums. His ballad writing still needs some seasoning, but he's at his best when raising a roadhouse ruckus, fueled by snarling electric guitars and firecracker snare drums amplified here by former John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman. Such life-affirming anthems as "Wrapped," "Wave on Wave" and "Guy Like Me" embrace his romantic and professional good fortune with the engaging charm of the good ol' boy next door.

[Pat Green's "Guy Like Me"]

Joe Ely knows what Pat Green is feeling. 25 years ago, his gruff and rugged merger of honky-tonk and rockabilly paved the major-label road for Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett and Kelly Willis. At age 56, after an overlong flirtation with flamenco music and a sparkling reunion with the Flatlanders, he's released Streets of Sin, his first studio album in five years. While it lacks the stamina of such classics as Musta Notta Gotta Lotta and Love and Danger, Streets of Sin front-loads its strongest tunes like "A Flood On Our Hands," "I'm on the Run Again" and Butch Hancock's rollicking "Fightin' For My Life" to emphasize Ely's renewed conviction, an awakening of hope in an era of war and turmoil.

[Joe Ely's 'Fightin' For My Life"]

While the images of highways, bridges and forces of nature suggest escape, Ely is actually running back - back to his inspiration, back to the same sense of liberating self-discovery that Pat Green has learned to tap into. This doesn't mean they're outlaws - it just means they're artists.

[Joe Ely's "I'm on the Run Again"]

 

David Okamoto is a senior entertainment producer at Yahoo Broadcast and a contributing editor to ICE magazine.