Here we go again catching up on a great album that I received earlier at a live show from bluesman Tinsley Ellis, reviewed the live show, played several songs on an episode of Time For The Blues, and still never got around to writing a review of the album itself.
I could use a good organizer. Except I would probably lose it…
Anyway, if you haven’t seen Tinsley Ellis live, you’re missing out on one of the best performers around. He can play a guitar until it begs for mercy, he’s a good vocalist, and he relates to an audience like few others. In short, he’s at the top of his game and I hope he’ll be traveling to your town soon so you can see what I’m talking about.
Ellis was out on the road in support of Red Clay Soul, the latest release on his Heartfixer Music label. Ellis has had such a lengthy career that he’s got several albums of music from which to pull, and he doesn’t mind revisiting his better known tunes while mixing in most of the tracks from his recent releases.
Ellis plays guitar, handles the lead vocals and even plays harmonica on one song. He’s joined by Kevin McKendree on organ and piano, and even guitar on one tune; Lynn Williams on drums and percussion; Steve Mackey on bass; and Oliver Wood on Guitar and vocals on Givin’ You Up. Wendy Moten adds background coals on Callin’.
Ellis wrote eight of the songs solo and co-wrote the remaining two; one with Oliver Wood, and one with Jon Tiven.
You know the album is going to start off with a strong guitar lead, and All I Think About rocks. The song is a narcissist’s dream and Ellis delivers it with a sly tongue-in-cheek manner. It’s a fun song and a good way to get things started.
Next is the song he co-wrote with Oliver Wood, Givin’ You Up. This is the song where Ellis shows off his harp chops. It’s a bouncy number, and while the subject matter is definitely blues, it takes a slight detour through rock territory. It’s a lighthearted approach and a satisfying song.
The song he co-wrote with Jon Tiven, Callin’, follows. The guitar lead sings and the song again leans more to his rock side, but he’s always been one of those artists who can straddle both genres in the same song. One of the great things about being the head of your own label, is that you can go wherever the music leads you and it’s your own reputation on the line. I like the song and enjoy listening to it, but most likely couldn’t play it within the narrower confines of a blues show. Doesn’t stop me from turning it up when it pops up on the CD player however.
McKendree’s keyboards are more prominent on Anything But Go. The lyrics are definitely blues, but Ellis plays around with the music and he crafts another good song that falls more on the rock side of the fence. Listen for his guitar leads because he is one helluva player.
He follows with a song we’ve played once or twice now on Time For The Blues, Hungry Woman Blues. Those are three words that can strike fear into just about anyone in a relationship. You must avoid those Hungry Woman Blues at all costs. These are some of Ellis’ best lyrics and his deadpan delivery on the song just makes it that much better.
The next song, Circuit Rider, has some serious blues chops in the music. The song tells the story of one man who rode from town to town serving people who were scattered and needed a preacher to minister to their needs. They are still out there serving far-flung communities and riding in the dark from one place to the next. It’s a very cool, dark song.
He picks up the pace on Don’t Cut It. It’s more blues that are shaded with rock. It’s a good driving song, and McKendree’s keys carry much of the music and mix well with Ellis’ guitar lead. Solid number.
Party Of One brings the tempo down and the intensity increases dramatically. This is one of those late night songs where the singer peels off his mask and stands exposed behind the microphone. Ellis sounds vulnerable and truly alone. If this isn’t the blues, I don’t know what is. You can escape the emotion he pours into this song.
The next song, Estero Noche, has also been featured on Time For The Blues. I love the way he mixes his guitar pyrotechnics with Latin rhythms, creating a reminiscent of Carlos Santana. Yeah, Ellis is that good, but this is his own sound – not an imitation, and he infuses it with his own technique and his own soul. I like instrumentals as an opportunity for the artist to show what he can do musically, and Ellis has already demonstrated on a previous album, that he can work an instrumental better than most. This one is particularly sweet.
He closes the album with The Bottle, The Book Or The Gun. It’s a soulful number that nicely encapsulates the album. The lyrics are pure blues, the music is as well, and his delivery is powerful. It’s an excellent song and a great way to bring this album to a close.
Ellis has been touring for something like four decades and I doubt there’s a place in the United States he hasn’t played. Still, if you haven’t seen him, make it a point to catch him live. If you check his website: http://www.tinsleyellis.com/ you’ll see that he’s booked solid. Make sure you catch him – he’s an amazing performer and a first-rate storyteller.
In the meantime, pick up Red Clay Soul and maybe two or three of his other discs and enjoy yourself. You won’t be sorry.