Undeterred by the lukewarm response to his last Capricorn album (due to the bad timing of it being released mere weeks before the company folded in 2000), Atlanta-based blues rocker Tinsley Ellis signed with his third label, Telarc, in early 2002 and churned out another signature effort. Bolstered by his roaring guitar shooting fiery licks, gruff singing, and no-frills approach, Ellis adds a hearty R&B edge to his music. Shortening his solos (only the slow burning eight-minute "Feelin' No Pain" stretches out into epic length), the songs never feel like vehicles for Ellis' obvious six-string prowess. Instead, the Steely Dan "Pretzel Logic" riff inspired "All Rumors Are True" and the magnificent "Mystery to Me" with its genuine soul vibe and warm electric piano set up a groove and ride it. Ellis revisits his louder, crunchier past with the wailing intro to "All I Can Do" and the ZZ Top (circa mid-'70s) swirl of "Ten Year Day," a song inspired by the events of September 11, 2001. Atlanta vocalist Donna Hopkins contributes hard-hitting backing vocals worthy of Bonnie Bramlett on three tracks, further pushing these songs into soulful territory. While the "Bell Bottom Blues"-styled ballad of "Stuck in Love" is a little too reminiscent of Clapton's writing and guitar style, as is the wah-wah churning "Strange Brew"-isms of "All I Can Do," Ellis doesn't generally ape other guitarists. Rather, he concocts his own combination of Freddie King, Peter Green, and Memphis influences. The closing James Taylor-ish acoustic ballad seems out of place with the rest of the sturdy performances, such as the strutting title track, but shows a tender side to the tough, heartfelt blues and rock that dominate this engaging album.
Hell or High Water Review
by Hal Horowitz