Almanac Music: Not Quite Bob – They Also Serve: Joe Ely, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt

Not Quite Bob – They Also Serve – Joe Ely, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt


Despite having a plan of sorts as to the artists I’ll cover in due course in this series (not many to go), every week I think of others that fit the bill.  That I’d be at least sorry to leave out.  Then it’s how to wrap a label around them for a theme within the theme.  The poets reading here will recognise the quoting of a line from John Milton that is probably a misuse of his intent but it made sense to me.  It’s scarcely the case that any of these artists have been standing and waiting their turn for a NQB mention but they’ve all been in my head along the way and here they are.



Joe Ely


Another Texan, Joe is a bit younger than Bob, first starts out with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock in The Flatlanders who release their first album in 1972, break up soon thereafter, play on one anothers albums forever from then on in the lather, rinse, repeat of many musicians.   Joe releases a self-titled album in 1977 and then the next year Honky Tonk Masquerade lobs into view.


Not so long ago he’s still playing the title track.  And in good company too.





This sets the scene for Joe’s style and somewhere in that long ago he goes to London to support The Clash on tour.  He and another Joe, Strummer, form a fast bond which even leads to this very decent cover of a Clash staple.





But its Honky Tonkin’ rockabilly that is the Ely trademark and one of his early attention grabbers is this one – Musta Notta Gotta Lotta from 1981.





It’s all there on the wrapping as it were, the front cover gives it away.  But there’s also another side to Ely with melancholy love songs peppering his recorded output over many years.  This one, ‘Fools Fall In Love’, is from his 3rdalbum, 1979’s Down On The Drag.  Video a bit ropey but it’s a great song.





Joe Ely is nothing if not a consistent, reliable performer and he’s pumped out over 20 albums full of the up and the down and everything in between.  I bought a few of the early ones and then nothing until 2015 when he released Panhandle Rambler.





Weary, thoughtful, a beautiful set of songs.  It speaks to a notable career.  His early albums are to dance and drink to, more recently it’s to reflect.  We all grow up eventually.



Rodney Crowell


A different kind of Texan, Rodney Crowell is more country crooner than rockabilly rebel.  Pretty much the same vintage as Joe, travelled the same roads, cites Guy Clark and Townes van Zandt as influences (even though they’re basically contemporaries and in 1978 he’s out in the world with his debut Ain’t Living Long Like This.  A cracking start, I’d link the whole thing except I want to put other albums of his up here but nearly 40 years later he’d still doing the title track on stage.  Here with long time collaborator Emmylou Harris in Austin.





All of the first few albums are musts and you could cherry pick anything from the next dozen or so and not be disappointed.  Not above a bit of politics is Rodney and in 2008 it’s Sex and Gasoline.





He’s does however tend to stay in gentler more straight ahead country mode and his collaborations with Emmylou Harris are a highlight of his career.  In 2013 they release Old Yellow Moon and they sing together on ‘Back When We Were Beautiful’.  If there is a more perfect melding of male and female voices I haven’t heard it.





She’s got form has Ms Harris as her singing with Gram Parsons was also very special as was her own career.  She’s another future NQB story.


The album they release a few years later called The Traveling Kind also has many great songs and it should see you part with some of your hard earned at some point.





In 2019 he produces an All-Star ode to the Lone State called Texas with contributions from Lee Ann Womack, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett.  And this guy, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.





As Macho Man Randy Savage would say – ooohhh yeeaahh!


Still making records, still performing, Rodney Crowell is Americana royalty in a tall, lean Texan frame.




Lyle Lovett


Lyle Pearce Lovett is another angular Texan but is also cut from a different cloth from the two dudes above.  More Bob Wills than Bob Dylan, Lovett is western swing all the way.  Similar age to Joe and Rodney, Lyle is a late starter with a self-titled debut in 1986.  But it’s a few years later with Lyle Lovett and His Large Band that he makes a splash.





He’s a smooth operator is Lyle, the classy suits, the Clark Gable ‘tache, the pompadour he even manages to punch way beyond his weight by marrying Julia Roberts at one point.  Doesn’t last but they’re still friends apparently.


Lyle Lovett’s watch words have always been ‘quality’ and ‘class’, he really is the essence of both.  This is the title track from Step Inside This House, recorded in 1998.





That album is a 21 gun salute to the Lovett canon.  If you bought everything I labelled ‘essential’ you’d be, like me, a pauper with lots of albums clogging up the house.  But this is essential.


Albums follow at a not prolific but still regular clip thereafter and they’re all at least worth an audition.  Along the way Lovett also squeezes in a lot of TV and film work as both a singer and an actor.  Of note are his quirky turns in two Robert Altman films in the early 90’s in Short Cuts and The Player.  In everything I’ve seen him in the filmmakers get him to play someone very like him and more than once he’s actually played himself.


I like me a Tiny Desk gig for these artists, so bless ‘em for getting LL on that format.  Here in the simplest of settings.





And in a bigger setting with one of his best loved songs.  ‘If I Had A Boat’.





If Lyle Lovett was a footballer we’d call him a jet.  To me he’s just on perfect.  Talent, easy charm, charisma in an odd way, a smile maker all day long.




John Hiatt


Hands up who doesn’t like John Hiatt?  Leave the room.  Now.  For the fans then, John Hiatt is a colossal and prolific artist in this space of the highest order.  Wont hear a sour word from me about him.


A son of Indiana, Hiatt moved to Nashville when 18 and followed the well-trodden path of many others.  When I did what passes for research on John I found a list of those who had covered his songs.  It takes most a 4 line para and includes Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel, Iggy Pop and Willy DeVille to name not even close to half of them.


A lot of great songs.  A lot.  His first album is in 1974 and there are six more until 1986.  All good.  But in 1987 he releases Bring The Family and hits a homer.  I won’t link it here because, frankly, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t got it.  From there, ‘Have a Little Faith In Me’.





Through the rest of the 80’s and 90’s he cranks them out, all beauties, all best savored when … I don’t know … Awake? Breathing? Anytime at all.  Happy songs, sad songs, good time songs, heart breaking ballads and flat out rockers.


Like this one.  In 1993 it’s the title track from Perfectly Good Guitar.





I could pick any album to link but how about this one in 2008.  Just like the other fellas here, all growed up, introspection, melancholy (you’d think I got a dollar for everytime I use that word) the view back over your shoulder.  Same Old Man.





In 2018 it’s The Eclipse Sessions.  ‘Cry To Me’.





Is there a criticism from anywhere?  Some curmudgeons would suggest a lot of them sound the same.  And it’s true.  They do.  But is that a fault when they’re all so good.  Not to these battered old drums.


I could link song after song but it’s hard to arrive at John Hiatt without a small detour to the supergroup that never quite made it.  Little VillageJohn Hiatt.  Ry Cooder. Jim Keltner.  Nick Lowe.  Crikey, will you look at that.  One self titled album, a live set, a few shows and a clip.  This.





Tantalising.  Less than 12 months from go to whoa.  Nick Lowe labelled the album ‘no good’ but I disagree.  Not great, but good.  Worth it to have them all together.


I’ll finish this bit about Those Who Also Serve with a set from the great man, John Hiatt.





A bit croaky but the songs.  The songs.  Always the songs.  That’s Bob all the way.



You can read more from Trevor Blainey HERE.



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  1. Rick Kane says

    TB, loving the NQB series and what a mix of ridiculously great talent you have discussed. Not the least, this episode. Huge RC fan. Jimmy Buffett does a great cover of Stars on the Water, Nitty Gritty a great cover of American Dream, Emmylou, well you spoke to their work together (great concert at the Palais too). What he did with Walk the Line is truly impressive, it still stops me in my tracks. Then there’s Adam’s Song and I’m gone. Thanks for this series!

  2. Trevor Blainey says

    Thanks Rick. It’s a bit of self indulgent fun. While I know what the last 3 will be a lot of these spring from the one just finished. I thought I’d do 10-15 but we’re a long way past that.

  3. Keiran Croker says

    Great stuff Trev,
    I’ve not got in to Joe Elly, however am a big fan of the other three. Great bodies of work and still producing superb albums. love the most recent albums of all three artists.

  4. Les Everett says

    Thanks. I bought Joe Ely’s Down of the Drag LP at a little ‘department’ store in Corrigin in about 1977. I’d never heard of him but the cover was good and it had pedal steel on it. Good choice. Standin’ at the Big Hotel was my favourite… written by Butch Hancock (NQB)

  5. Thanks Trev. Long time reader; first time caller. Love your work. Like Keiran a big fan of 3 but never got into Joe Ely. Rodney Crowell has been the biggest presence, but I’ve dipped in and out – loving the quirky poignant ballads more than the country honky tonk.
    Had his first album on vinyl & dropped the needle on Leaving Louisiana and Ain’t Living Long plenty of times. Came back to him via Waltz Across Texas on Emmylou’s Wrecking Ball magnum opus. Started buying him again on the Emmylou duo albums. Travelling Kind is still on high rotation.
    But Tarpaper Sky is way my favourite in a body of work approaching 45 years. Flyboy and the Kid; Missing You; Me Without You: and Grandma Loved that Old Man are as beautiful and wistful songs of gratitude and mid age love as Dylan’s Modern Times.
    Lastly he is a music and poetry collaborator of my recovery hero Mary Karr whose 3 book memoir of the joys and terrors of alcoholism are my favourite in the genre. Liars Club about the crazy family she grew up with; Cherry about the wild child years; and Lit about being brought to her knees literally and spiritually by her addiction. Her Art to Memoir guide to writing is as engaging and insightful as any in the genre. With friends like Mary how couldn’t you love Rodney? They do annual writing retreats together in the Greek Islands. It would be on the bucket list except I’d have the urge to buy them both a drink.

  6. Colin Ritchie says

    Another cracking read! I’m looking forward to seeing Joe Ely with the Flatlanders in Texas when I’m there in September.

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