Hell or High Water
It’s entirely appropriate that the cover of bluesman Tinsley Ellis’ new record sets the guitarist in the middle of a swamp. A swamp, that dark southern place, a mixture of a hundred different things, is much like Ellis’ music. A dose of blues, a big splash of soul, and a bit of Texas-style rock and roll honk. After 20 years of recording, the Georgian has become not only a highly respected guitar legend, he has also become one of the better blues and soul songwriters working (his “A Quitter Never Wins” was a hit for newcomer Jonny Lang). This new record, his first for Telarc, is 12 originals that showcase his stinging guitar and gruff vocal style, and it sounds as if it might have been recorded in a Memphis studio sometime in the ’60s — think Stax Records and that great Steve Cropper guitar — and is produced by legendary boardman Eddy Offord (Yes, ELP, 311). Instead of relying on churning up yet another version of some blues standard, Ellis has created a blues/soul hybrid that is uniquely his — check out the epic “Stuck In Love,” where Tinsley streams out guitar lines that summon the feel of backline horn section, or the Z.Z Top/Fabulous Thunderbirds grease of “All Rumors Are True.” Tinsley Ellis might have hopped around, label-wise in the last few years, but one listen to Hell or High Water tells you his address straight away — at home in the blues.