Tinsley Ellis: Winning Hand (Alligator/Southbound)

 |   |  1 min read

Saving Grace
Tinsley Ellis: Winning Hand (Alligator/Southbound)

The remarkable thing about Chicago's Alligator label – and singer-guitarist Ellis who started his career on it three decades ago – is just how consistent the quality of their innercity blues has been.

Often you hear a new Alligator album and feel that time stopped back in the hard-scrabble days for raw blues back in '66 or maybe '76.

Another of that American generation who learned the blues from listening to British r'n'b bands and their guitarists in the Sixties when he was growing up – then graduating through Hendrix while also going back to sources – Ellis channels all of those influences. But they are embedded so deep that when he steps out he brings something distinctive (and frequently Southern and slightly funky reflecting his background in Florida and his birthplace Atlanta) to whatever he does.

So on this album where that enflamed or needle-sharp guitar playing is to the fore – for plank-spankers the liner noters tell you what axe has been deployed – alongside his Chicago-influenced and black-sounding vocals.

While you may hear brief allusions to everyone from Junior Wells and Buddy Guy through various Kings to Duane Allman, and accepting that sometimes the song is just there as the vehicle for the playing, this is a tour de blues outing recorded, oddly enough, in Nashville.

Albert Collins styled himself as the Ice Man but Ellis – whose early albums included Fanning the Flames and Fire It Up – could rightly claim on the evidence of his blowtorch playing to be the Flame Thrower.

That said, he delivers with economy and focus so this album is balanced by songs when he drags you in with his soul edge on the slower numbers: The regret-filled original Gamblin' Man (like BB King at his mid-period best, but with more blaze'n'ache in the guitar); the intimate Autumn Run (“things we call pain we used to call fun”); the fearful Don't Turn Off the Light and the disturbingly raw closer Saving Grace.

And on Leon Russell's Dixie Lullaby – the only non-original here among the 10 tracks – he goes right back to those Southern roots with fellow traveller and longtime band member/co-producer Kevin McKendree hammering the ivories like they were in cramped boogie bar off the interstate.

Now on Alligator after a time away, 60-year old Ellis sounds right back home . . . but with restless feet always ready to run and a guitar prepared to throw flame.

Share It

Your Comments

Mike P - Jan 22, 2018

Sounds good, I shall have to keep an eye out for this album.

Mike P - Jan 22, 2018

Reminds me a lot of Robin Trower. Great track.

Mike B - Jan 23, 2018

yep the sample trk does it for me and love the use of "blaze'n'ache"

post a comment

More from this section   Blues articles index

Susan Tedeschi: Back to the River (Universal)

Susan Tedeschi: Back to the River (Universal)

This raw and soaring blues-rock singer and guitarist has been mentioned in Elsewhere dispatches recently, but only as the wife of slide guitarist Derek Trucks. Very much her own person however,... > Read more

B.B. King: Makin' Love is Good For You (SBird/Southbound)

B.B. King: Makin' Love is Good For You (SBird/Southbound)

With the great B.B. King due to arrive in Australasia for concerts, this now-readily available album from 2000 is timely. It caught him on a career high with his road-tested band in the studio just... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

BILL LASWELL INTERVIEWED (1994): In the den of the alchemist

BILL LASWELL INTERVIEWED (1994): In the den of the alchemist

The apartment seven floors up on Park Ave South, just around the corner from the exclusive Gramercy Park area of New York, is much as you might expect. Albums and CDs line the walls. Over... > Read more

Elvis Costello: Wave a White Flag (demo 1976)

Elvis Costello: Wave a White Flag (demo 1976)

When Elvis Costello was an aspiring singer-songwriter, desperate to get a foothold and using the name DP Costello, he was fronting the pub-rock band Flip City. But he was also recording his own... > Read more