Picks and Pans Review: Hi-Res

updated 06/18/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/18/1984 01:00AM

Joe Ely

On his scorching last album, Musta Notta Gotta Lotta, in 1981, Joe hollered, "Please understand me, everything's all right/Just musta notta gotta lotta sleep last night." Those lines could serve as an apologia for his new set. On one level, everything is all right: Joe is still honky-tonking, still emitting a potent aroma suggesting sweat-stained Stetsons, road grime and wet butts at the bottom of empty Lone Star bottles. In Letter to Laredo, he blurts, "I'm on the run/On my head is a five-number bounty for a crime I never done." In Lipstick in the Night, he picks up a woman with a "look in her eye would make a rhinestone jealous," and at "a cheap hotel" they get into "a helluva fight." He gets a bit purple in Imagine Houston, but comes up with a memorable line: "And you better watch your step if you're just standing around/Because the buildings ain't constructed, they erupt from the ground!" Yet except for the bridge of Letter to Laredo, the music itself sounds as if it had bags under its eyes. It's strangely sluggish, cautious and deliberate. Maybe it's because Joe has a new band, which is not quite the equal of the one on Musta Notta. Maybe recognition has made him self-conscious. Or maybe the computers he used to compose and arrange the new material, and the synthesizers that colored the songs, introduced a numbing exactness that Joe couldn't overcome. (He said in a recent interview, "It was just too perfect. I realized I was missing something, and that's when I decided to take the arrangements to the studio.") Whatever, Hi-Res is like an 80-mph fastball from a 95-mph pitcher. (Southcoast/MCA)

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