“Flatland Lullaby” Joe Ely (Rack ’em/Thirty Tigers)
Don’t assume Joe Ely’s new children’s album will have limited appeal. This is for anyone who has ever been a child.
“Flatland Lullaby” had been in the works for a long time. Some of the material dates from the 1970s, and Ely began recording it at his home studio in Austin, Texas in 1984 as a gift to his granddaughter, Marie. (It’s her baby photo on the cover.)
Ely sometimes spent years working on a verse, and the decades of incubation show it: the album is a relaxed but polished, varied and charming delight that evokes “Yellow Submarine”, “Abbey Road”, the cartoons of the Saturday morning and trips to the circus. There’s less twang than elsewhere in Ely’s catalog, and instead a dreamy, slightly surreal vibe, with synthesizers playing an effective part in creating fairytale soundscapes.
The moon, the sun and the stars are recurring characters. A blue jay pulls a plow, a ghost is scared, and straw turns to gold. “Over the Water” shimmers and sways gently as Ely sings about dreamers and lost children, while “The Gypsy Lady” is a bouncy, effervescent fiddle tune that tackles big questions.
Woody Guthrie’s “Riding in My Car” becomes a Bakersfield-style duet with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Ely honors nature and a beautiful sloppy melody on the traditional “Woody Knows Nothin” tune. The other cover is an enchanting version of “Love and Happiness for You,” complete with the beautiful harmony vocals of Kimmie Rhodes Gracey, who wrote the song with Emmylou Harris.
A poignant wish of sweet dreams closes the album which, like childhood, ends too soon.