Roadhouse Album Review: Tinsley Ellis returns with a fiery “Devil May Care”

Tinsley Ellis — “Devil May Care” (Alligator Records, Jan. 21)

When you hear about, or even better, hear Tinsley Ellis sing and play guitar, some of the words that often come to mind include fiery, passionate, torrid and gritty.

They come to mind because they are all true.

Ellis, with 10 heady new originals on his 20th album (back at Alligator, where he debuted in 1988 with “Georgia Blue”), fills these tracks with his trademark scorching guitar and vocals.

Ellis draws on blues, rock, Southern rock and great guitar traditions for his work, but it’s all filtered through his own personal style. And his songwriting skills reflect the lively invention of his guitar work.

The two opening tracks kick everything off with some good, old-fashioned Southern rock — “One Less Reason” and “Right Down the Drain” are both high-powered, guitar-driven rockers. But Ellis scorches just as much when he tempers that unbridled guitar passion with the slow-burning intensity of “Just Like Rain” (with co-producer and keyboard wizard Kevin McKendree steaming over the B3), a torchy “Don’t Bury Our Love” and the blues-infused “Slow Train To Hell.”

There’s plenty more for the blues-rock fans, and Ellis doesn’t disappoint with a fiery collection that includes “28 Days,” “Juju,” “Step Up” and “One Last Ride,” all pulsing with hair-raising guitar licks driving his crackling band — McKendree on organ and piano, Steve Mackey on bass, and Lynn Williams on drums and percussion.

Ellis used his Covid time off to explore his music in multiple ways: “There was a lot of time to experiment. In my downstairs studio I set up every guitar and amp that I owned, plus a Leslie cabinet, an old wooden Wurlitzer electric piano, an old Maestro Echoplex tape delay and 30 or 40 glass, steel and brass slides. Experimenting with different gear set ups inspired the songwriting. Plus, I was able to listen to more music than I had since the 1970s. My imagination was fired up!”

And “fired up” is the best way to sum up the results — an album blazing with some of the best rocking blues around.

Here’s “One Less Reason.”

Tracklist and credits

1.One Less Reason 5:11
2.Right Down The Drain 5:00
3.Just Like Rain 4:30
4.Beat The Devil 3:50
5.Don’t Bury Our Love 5:19
6.Juju 5:02
7.Step Up 4:05
8.One Last Ride 6:11
9.28 Days 4:00
10.Slow Train To Hell 5:15
All songs by Tinsley Ellis, Heartfixer Music, BMI
Tinsley Ellis, Guitar and Vocals; Kevin McKendree, Organ and Piano; Steve Mackey, Bass; Lynn Williams, Drums and Percussion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s