Joe Ely & Joel Guzman: Live Cactus!

Rack 'Em
Music •••• Sound ••••

Rather than wondering what's in the water, it's probably more fitting to wonder what's in the wind that makes musicians hailing from viento-driven West Texas so unique. Whatever it is, there's no denying an unmistakable thread that runs through area notables stretching at least as far back as Buddy Holly and his protégé Waylon Jennings.

As with those artists, Joe Ely's reputation over his nearly four decades as a performer has been as a plain-talking, heart-and-gut singer and songwriter willfully galloping to his own Tex-Mex beat. His emergence in the late 1970s may have come too late for him to be one of Waylon's Outlaw posse, and too early to reap commercial benefits from the alt-country movement he helped define. But you'd never know it from the ever-forward-moving undercurrent that has always characterized his work.

Case in point: Ely's latest, an acoustic set recorded live at Austin's Cactus Café with his longtime accompanist, the accordionist extraordinaire Joel Guzman. The hour-long set includes tough/tender gems like"Letter to Laredo" and "All Just to Get to You." There's also the restless "Up on the Ridge" - and "All That You Need" is a nerve-touching tale of a hard-working family losing its cotton farm to foreclosure.

That these songs, which span 30 years of composing, all sound of a piece is striking evidence of both the quality and depth of Joe Ely's artistry. Maybe the title of the 1978 tune he reaches back for here says it best: "Because of the Wind."