Joe Ely, "Love In the Midst of Mayhem" (Rack 'Em Records)
Joe Ely's leftovers are keepers, as "Love In the Midst of Mayhem" shows.
Idled by the coronavirus — the "pandamnit," as Ely calls it — the West Texas troubadour began digging through his backlog of songs that had not yet found a home. The material served as the foundation for "Love In the Midst of Mayhem," 10 open-hearted tunes about honesty, hope and healing. "A song is a poet's pain," Ely sings on the opening cut, "Soon All Your Sorrows Be Gone."
Indoor tempos match the way the pace of life has slowed, but the ballad-heavy, mostly acoustic set still offers variety. Tex-Mex guitar lightens the despair of "Don't Worry About It," and a carnivalesque coda punctuates "Glare of Glory," while accordion virtuoso Joel Guzman colours in the corners throughout.
It also helps that the 73-year-old Ely is in great voice. His dusty tenor floats over the devotional waltz "You Can Rely on Me," but hits the consonants with New York intensity on the marvelous "Garden of Manhattan."
Ely's vocal is sombre on a song of heartache titled "Cry," and he lets one out on the final verse, summing up the sound of 2020.