JOE ELY & JOEL GUZMAN "Live Cactus!" Rack 'Em

Friday, June 27, 2008

JOE ELY & JOEL GUZMAN"Live Cactus!"Rack 'Em

ON HIS new concert recording, "Live Cactus!," Joe Ely makes a joke about his home town, Lubbock, Tex. "It's a very romantic place," he says, adding after a pause, "if you've just gotten out of the pen." He then goes on to confess that most of his songs are rooted there: in the narratives of cowboy songs, in the swing of Bob Wills, in the rockabilly of hometown hero Buddy Holly and in the accordion-fueled bounce of Tex-Mex music. That last quality has always been present in Ely's music but never so obviously as in his collaborations with accordionist Joel Guzman.

The two were bandmates in the borderland all-star ensemble Los Super Seven, and recently they've been performing as a duo. This disc captures the two live, playing 10 songs by Ely and one apiece by R.C. Banks, Butch Hancock and Townes Van Zandt (young singer Ryan Bingham joins in Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues"). Guzman is an underappreciated virtuoso of the squeezebox; his thick chords and fluttery runs fill out the sound of Ely's tenor and acoustic guitar remarkably well. On "Ranches and Rivers," Guzman's accordion answers each line of Ely's vocals so eloquently that it almost sounds like a dialogue.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing today at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (202-633-1000, Shows start at 2 and 6 p.m.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company