Live Cactus!

There’s a short roster of rock and roll performers (Jagger, Springsteen) who can rivet your attention every time they step onstage. If you grew up in Texas, here’s a name on that list: Joe Ely . Those who have seen Ely give his all, particularly with his early Jesse Taylor/Ponty Bone band or with David Grissom in the mid-eighties—or really in most any other configuration—know what others may not have gleaned from his studio albums: His performances are absolutely electric. Small wonder he has now released Live Cactus! (Rack ’Em), his fourth live album. Joined on accordion by his frequent (and brilliant) collaborator Joel Guzman, he turns what could have been an intimate Austin coffeehouse snooze into a rave-up. There’s nothing here—save a duet with Ryan Bingham on Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues”—that Ely hasn’t recorded before, but Guzman, who always knows just the right thing to play, lends a new flavor to old favorites. Ely, meanwhile, accelerates the excitement with the slightest nuance again and again, making the hundred-plus audience respond as if it were ten times larger.

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