Tinsley Ellis

Midnight Blue

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Something happened to Tinsley Ellis' sound when he began his Heartfixer Music label. First there was the all-instrumental Get It! in 2013, that focused on the many sounds that make up the guitarist's arsenal. Sure electric blues was at the root, but hard rock, surf, R&B, and even pop played a role in its creation. The sound was warm, yet lacked none of the bite that Ellis had become famous for. Midnight Blue, Get It!'s follow-up, evidences the bluesman's return to more familiar terrain. The ten-song program commences with "If the River Keeps Rising," where Ellis comes out of the gate playing acoustic blues. His throaty baritone ominously offers its metaphorical warning through the first verse before the band comes careening in à la Led Zep's "When the Levee Breaks." It's loud, proud, and nasty. Ellis' slide work is spare but stinging. "Mouth Turn Dry" is modern electric blues driven not only by guitar but Kevin McKendree's rave-up B-3. "Surrender" is an emotive soul-blues that showcases just how fine a singer Ellis is when he wants to be. It also possesses a bumping bassline from Ted Pecchio (one of many), a cut-time shuffle by Lynn Williams (whose grooves throughout this album are infectious), and shimmering Rhodes and B-3 work from McKendree. Ellis' fills and solo cut the track wide open. It's a slow burner, but a deep one. Other highlights include the Ray Charles-inspired "See No Harm" and the crystalline yet biting, B.B. King-influenced "Peace and Love" (that distinguishes itself with a unique use of the wah-wah pedal). While "Harder to Find" begins with an acoustic piano, it starts to throb Hendrix-style with psych effects while remaining a 12-bar blues. "That's My Story" is a sonic bonfire; a funky, dirty boogie à la early ZZ Top. The set closes on the simmering "Kiss of Death," a slow blues that reveals Ellis and band's commitment to the Chicago Blues. It displays gorgeous melodic playing and a refusal to indulge in obviousness and exquisite taste. Midnight Blue is solid top to bottom, and is the finest studio album since 2005's The Hard Way.

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