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Joe Ely | Love in the Midst of Mayhem

The Texas troubadour uses his downtime to compile some unreleased tracks.

You can always count on Joe Ely to get the job done. And done beautifully. While scores of artists large and small are packing up their albums and fleeing the global pandemic, the Texas troubadour has used his enforced downtime to craft his first new studio release in five years. True to its title, the surprise release Love in the Midst of Mayhem — featuring previously unissued songs and recordings that he apparently unearthed and completed during the past few weeks of self-isolation — is a concept album about romance, hardship, fear, perseverance and reliance. The set list reportedly includes numbers from as far back as the 1970s and 1980s, along with several written in the past few years — like the aptly titled waltz You Can Rely on Me. Another number, All You Are Love, was apparently written in 2012 with fellow Flatlanders Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock. But to Ely’s credit, it’s not like you could definitively date any of these cuts from listening: They’re all as consistent and coherent as if they were penned last month. And of course, they’re all delivered in Ely’s soulfully sandy croon and defined by the earthy sincerity, straightforwardness and elegance that have always been part of his sonic and stylistic signature. Given their inspiration and subject matter, Love in the Midst of Mayhem naturally a ballad-heavy affair, but that’s OK — Joe still has plenty of time to put together a celebratory, rockin’ set for the day when life returns to normal.

THE PRESS RELEASE: “His name is Joe Ely. He comes from Lubbock, Texas. His boots are old and beaten. They’d look mighty lonesome without him standing in them.” These are the opening lines of a long bio that Joe Ely’s first record label used to introduce him to the world in 1977 on the eve of his debut album. Those ‘old and beaten boots’ have since built a stable of work of better than 20 albums — a diverse catalogue of song which has consistently earned critical praise, has never been afraid to explore and prides itself on blurring the lines of musical genre. One thing is very clear, and every fan and follower will tell you the same, those ‘boots’ have fronted some of the best and most talented bands to ever hit the concert stage night after night. They have also toured with or shared the stage with Merle Haggard, The Kinks, Chuck Berry, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Roy Brown, Linda Ronstadt, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band and more. Yet the ‘boots’ have never chased fame, and one of the most loyal fan bases in music is just fine with that. After countless soles, Joe Ely and his boots are back. Fresh off his 40th Anniversary celebration concert of the recording of his first live album, Live Shots, Joe Ely was just settling in to get to work on his next batch of projects and gigs, when the coronavirus pandemic (or “pandamint” as Joe calls it) took grip. After seeing the worldwide scope of the pandemic, initial frustration about cancelled projects and gigs quickly turned into a question of, “What can I do to help?” Knowing they would be confined to their home for an undetermined amount of time, Joe and his wife Sharon jumped on the opportunity to review music, files, and notes of Joe’s work thru the years of songs that had not yet found a home. “I went digging in places I hadn’t visited in a long time,” says Joe. What they found was a treasure trove of love songs, several of which speak of compassion for your fellow person. The new album, Love in the Midst of Mayhem is a collection of 10 of these songs. “The album popped up quickly, but, at the same time, it was a long time coming,” says Joe. “When putting together an album, I typically try to go with a story. This time I went with feeling. I see people out of work, out of food, and I see medical workers and others on the front lines putting their lives in danger everyday. I also see the beauty of the human spirit at work too. The time was right.” Whether you are slow waltzing with your loved one after dinner to You Can Rely on Me, or moved by the simplistic brilliance of A Man and His Dog, this album is sure to make you look inside. “I hope we all kind of see where we are today, and realize that we need to come together to pull out of this. We need to turn fear into a positive thing to put the world back together. I hope people will listen with open eyes and an open ear.” Yes, Joe Ely and his boots are back – just in time, too.”