Sharing the same West Texas roots that birthed Buddy Holly, Joe Ely helped kick-start the so-called outlaw country movement and has influenced its direction ever since. More than 30 years ago, he was part of the region's first supergroup, the Flatlanders, and he was there with Tex-Mex stars Los Super Seven as well. Now in the fourth decade of his sprawling career, Ely is as feisty and plucky as ever with the release of Happy Songs From Rattlesnake Gulch, his first album in four years. Despite his revered status among fans and peers, he's been chewed up and spit out by the major record companies, and that's how a small indie label like Rack 'Em Records landed him. Staying true to tradition, the album retraces familiar themes—hard-bitten heroes and unrepentant outlaws with songs such as "Sue Me Sue," "Hard Luck Saint," "Mister Clyde" and "Firewater"—tunes that reflect Ely's fondness for misfits and misadventure. The music, a defiant brand of down-home, unapologetic Southern rock, genuinely befits the album's brash upstart attitude. Imagine Chuck Berry railing about the devil while saluting Steve Earle with a mint julep in one hand and a bottle of bourbon in the other. Happy songs? Well, maybe not, but the current that flows through Rattlesnake Gulch is a bitter mix of dust, piss and venom.