The rich tradition of Texas country folk, birthed and nurtured by bards like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock, and Steve Earle, is often cited as the cradle of alternative country. Problem is, few of the new exponents can dredge up the lyrical depth or poetic beauty of the originals. On his fine new album, Twistin’ in the Wind (MCA), veteran Joe Ely once again bundles folk rock, honky-tonk, blues, and Tex-Mex with little visible effort, but his starkly evocative vignettes are what really stand out. They’re filled with images from that mythical time when men worked hard and then drank harder, but they always put across sentiments that carry as much currency today as they did a century ago: “Roll Again” presents a series of tough guys cursing their bad luck to suggest that no one’s ever really happy with their lot; in “Sister Soak the Beans” Ely goes home via an ode to his mom’s enchiladas. And if some of his songs get a bit dramatic–the title track’s narrator turns suicidal after leaving his lover–others, like “Nacho Mama” (as in “I’m na’ cho”), about a band of cross-dressing cowboys, provide plenty of comic relief. Ely may not be particularly interested in twisting the tradition–but why should he be, when in his hands it’s as relevant as ever? Saturday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Wilson.