Maybe 11 or 12 years ago I saw Social Distortion with my dad at an outdoor summer-themed concert series in Little Rock, where I grew up. Seeing Social Distortion with your dad is weird, but I guess I was too young to go alone or he was too old to admit he wanted to go, and so we compromised: He'd see Social Distortion with me, and I'd see legendary Texan outlaw Joe Ely with him. I remember the Social D show pretty well--some of my friends were there without their dads, which seemed pretty embarrassing at the time, and equal numbers of skate punks, Mohawk punks and biker punks were there, moshing up a pit of unity while Mike Ness proved that a lifetime of smoking cigarettes isn't necessarily a detriment to vocal prowess. But I actually remember the Joe Ely show more, if only because the crowd at that one seemed even weirder and more prone to parking-lot fisticuffs: aging country fans, rootsy intellectuals, a handful of stray soccer moms, the six Social D fans hipping Little Rock to alt-country at the time. Which isn't to say that I was old enough to really get what Ely was doing; the type of hard-bitten but sweetly tender country-rock he plays (or played that day) seems custom-made to elude the sensibilities of a kid for whom an uptempo cover of "Ring of Fire" seems like the oldest possible sound in the world. I'm not even sure I grasp what Ely and his buddies Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock are doing on Now Again, the new album from their notoriously unprolific outfit The Flatlanders; the record's got that feel that I think my dad would call timeless and I'd call hokey. But it's growing on me, especially the parts when their voices come together and spin through a song like a rusty weather vane, and they evoke those long stretches of land where your "wildest dreams grow wilder every day." I wonder if my dad gets it.
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