Often, it seems that a veteran singer getting into his or her 60s or 70s will start writing more frequently about life and death. While the results can often be compelling (the best parts of Johnny Cash's "American Recordings" sessions, for example), they can also be plain depressing (the worst parts of "American Recordings"). Then, there's the Joe Ely approach. On his new album, "Satisfied At Last," Ely, 64, says he wants his ashes loaded into some shotgun shells and blasted across the Texas countryside. Touching? Not exactly, but it's nice to hear Ely's customary swagger even when singing about his own mortality.
"Satistied at Last" finds Ely in a reflective mood. The Highway Is My Home could be the theme song for many a traveling musician, while Not That Much Has Changed finds that traveler coming back home again. If Ely is thinking about his current place in life, he's at least treating it as a temporary stop and not his final destination. Witness I'm a Man Now, which indicates that he may just be hitting his prime.
All the songs are delivered with the usual mixture of Tex-Mex, traditional country and roadhouse rock. Frequent collaborators like Joel Guzman on accordion and keys and guitarists David Holt, Lloyd Maines and Teye are all present. The biggest departure from Ely's typical sound is the reggae-tinged Roll Again, but it fits in nicely with the album's philosophical bent. "Nobody's satisfied with the road they chose to ride/Oh, let it go, roll again," he sings.
Ely wrote 7 of the 10 songs on the album. Butch Hancock supplies Circumstance and Leo and Leona, an excellent, immersive story song. The other, Billy Joe Shaver's Live Forever, is the weakest song - it's not bad in and of itself, but Ely's take on it comes up short when compared to Shaver's own, definitive version.
"Satisfied at Last" could have become a big, "statement" album, given the subject matter. Fortunately, Ely keeps the dramatics to a bare minimum and delivers a strong addition to an already impressive discography.