This excellent collection while maybe not quite definite, as it has only 3 tracks from Ely's later albums and nothing from his early Flatlanders days, does a pretty fine job of bringing together highlights from Ely's career when he was signed to MCA. It runs from in sequence from songs taken from his 1977 self-titled debut album to a track from 2011. It reminds what a stylistic and individual singer Ely is. He is also a strong writer and a good chooser of outside songs, with selections from his friend Butch Hancock as well as covers by the likes of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away as well as choices from the pens of Dave Alvin, Tom Russell and Robert Earl Keen sitting alongside his own songs.
He has been consistently a good all rounder who deserves his reputation as a legend and someone who has done it his way throughout his time on a major label - and beyond. He may never have reached the commercial heights that some of his contemporaries did, but he has the respect of his peers, friends and fans. Something that must count highly overall any way you cut it.
With over 40 songs there is much to choose from it is indeed difficult to pick a small selection of highlights such is the overall quality of the material on these two CDs. But Treat Me Like a Saturday Night, Dallas, Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown, Settle For Love, Letter To Loredo and I'm A Thousand Miles From Home are all great examples, for me, of what he does so well. It also is undeniably country and roots sounding, despite his renegade status. There is more pedal steel here that you will find around currently and that's matched by the righteous roots rock that he played when he had such talents as guitarist David Grissom in his band.
It might behove many of today's rock influenced recording artists to draw from this well rather than the stadium rock that many seem to use as a template. Joe Ely is a treasure and someone who is still making music that is powerful, poignant and perceptive. This collection is the ideal place to start if you're new to his music and a very handy reminder if, like me, you already have the majority of the albums that are featured here.