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CD REVIEW -- Tinsley Ellis
GLT blues radio



Winning Hand


Alligator Records


10 Tracks/48:40


Tinsley Ellis CD art


by Mark Thompson


One of the true road warriors, Tinsley Ellis has been making music for more than forty years, touring on his own for the last three decades. In addition to his notable guitar talents, Ellis remains a commanding vocalist and a prolific songwriter. His latest brings him back to Alligator Records for the third time, where his solo career started with Georgia Blue, a 1988 release. Three more albums followed before Ellis moved on, only to return in 2005 with the exciting Live-Highwayman set documenting the guitarist playing in front of his fans. In the last seven years, he put out four titles on his Landslide and Heartfixer labels.


Wasting no time, Ellis hits hard from the start with “Sound Of A Broken Man,” running down the plight of a man left alone without a clue or explanation, left to “...pick up the pieces and try not to cut myself”. He unleashes two bold guitar solos, the second one using a wah-wah pedal to add the emotional torment. The next track, “Nothing But Fine,” has a familiar ring to it, echoing Grand Funk’s “Some Kind Of Wonderful”. Ellis plays a 1967 Gibson ES 345 on the track, one of five guitars put to use on the project, including a 1959 Fender Stratocaster, a 1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, a 1996 Fender Telecaster, and a 200 Les Paul Standard. The CD booklet lists which instrument was utilized on each track. “Gamblin' Man” finds the singer in the throes of another heart-wrenching break-up, left with one consolation, “...If I was a gamblin' man, I'd bet on you to come back to me.”


The rhythm section of Steve Mackey on bass and Lynn Williams on drums set a furious pace on “Kiss The World,” with the singer still obsessing over a broken relationship while firing off taut licks over the swells generated by Kevin McKendree on organ. “Satisfied” finds Ellis in a far better place on a full-throttle rocker with McKendree pumping out great sounds on the piano. But the upbeat attitude is quickly forgotten on the smoldering, minor key lament, “Don't Turn Off The Light.” Ellis does his best to fight off the demons with an intense guitar coda.


On “I Got Mine,” Ellis warns off the back door man snooping around while he is on the road. McKendree's organ playing on “Autumn Run” will take listeners back to the glory days of the Hi Records sound. The lone cover is an engaging romp through Leon Russell's “Dixie Lullaby”. The band continues to explore the darker recesses of the human experience on the closing cut, “Saving Grace,” another slow blues standout as Ellis pulls powerful chords from his Les Paul before he wrings every bit of emotion he can from the fretboard on two extended solo segments. Serving up his blues with a hard edge, Tinsley Ellis has fashioned another striking set that more than lives up to the promise in the disc's title.


 About the Author: Mark Thompson lives in Bradenton, Florida and serves as the president of the Suncoast Blues Society. A former Chicago area native, he also acted as the president of Rockford/Byron's Crossroads Blues Society. Thompson writes for many blues publications and serves on the Board for the Blues Foundation in Memphis, which hosts the annual Blues Music Awards and International Blues Challenge events.




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