Tinsley Ellis does not like to be called a bluesman. "I'm a rock and roller who plays the blues," says the guitarist and vocalist. "Calling myself a bluesman seems a disservice to the older guys who have spent a lifetime paying dues." I'm not sure when Ellis made that quote from his bio on Alligator Records, but it is clear that he has paid quite a few dues over the past twenty-seven years as a professional musician. Working with a host of well known performers including Chicago Bob Nelson, Nappy Brown, Preston Hubbard (Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Duck Dunn, Ellis has performed in all 50 states, as well as in Canada, Europe, Australia and even South America. He has shared stages with Robert Cray, Koko Taylor, or The Allman Brothers and he averages over 200 performances a year, indicating that no one has become a success just sitting around home.
Hell Or High Water is Tinsley Ellis' debut CD for Telarc Records, and at least his tenth overall, having recorded previously for Landside, Alligator, and Capricorn Records. After listening to Hell Or High Water several times since I get my hands on it, I have to say that it is probably also one of his most diverse recordings, venturing into blues, rock, Georgia soul, along with a taste of country and bluegrass. The CD opens with the most excellent title track, "Hell Or High Water," a touch of Georgia soul about a woman who was sent "to Georgia right straight from hell" and into the Tinsley's life. This is a song that will work into your head and you will be humming, whistling or singing along before you know it. The vibrant opener is followed by a nice walking blues called, "I'm Hooked," where Ellis' smooth guitar is offset by some nice piano work by Kevin McKendrie. On "Mystery To Me," Ellis slips back into a more soulful mode in a medium tempo song that includes background vocals by Donna Hopkins.
Tinsley's musical gears shift again on "Love Comes Knockin'" a up tempo song that has distinct hints of country or bluegrass filtering through it. On "Stuck In Love," Ellis takes up the balladeer's role with great relish, mixing in a powerful guitar solo break to remind the listener that his forte is still as a guitarist. The CD moves back into the blues vein on "All Rumors Are True," a song with a familiar blues riff and lyrics perfect to Ellis' vocal style.
In case anyone forget about the fiery side of Tinsley Ellis and his guitar, "All I Can Do," offers a crashing reminder in a song that opens with an incendiary guitar solo that hammers home repeatedly throughout the 4+ minute song. This is one of the more rock laced songs on the CD and probably what people are most familiar with from Ellis. "Love Me By Phone" returns to the more bluesy side of the CD with a song that is in style very reminiscent of the blues classic "Easy Baby."
The slow blues, "Feelin' No Pain," is the longest song on Hell Or High Water (just over 8 minutes) and allows Tinsley to maximize the emotional power of his guitar. My favorite song on the CD though is the following number, "Ten Year Day." "Ten Year Day" is probably more of a rock song than a blues, but it caught my attention and held it for the full 4:38. The song describes the endless suffering found in a bad relationship, creating the proverbial "ten year day." It is a message that I am sure most everyone has been able to identify with sometime in their lives (love, business or other). It also features more excellent guitar by Ellis.
Hell Or High Water ends on a quiet note with "Set Love Free," featuring Ellis alone on vocals and guitar. It is a nice number that shows yet another side of the guitar and vocal stylings of Tinsley Ellis. At the end of the musical journey that makes up the twelve song CD, you will be satisfied that Tinsley Ellis is the real deal and one of the best performers on the road today. To hear the many sides of Tinsley Ellis, pick up a copy of Hell Or High Water soon. Check it out at www.telarc.com and visit the Tinsley Ellis website at www.tinsleyellis.com to learn more about this fine Georgia musician.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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