Blues Bytes

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February 2020

Tinsley Ellis
Ice Cream In Hell
Alligator Records

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis is no stranger to the blues world, with Ice Cream In Hell (Alligator) being at least his 18th album in a career of more than 30 years. The Georgia native has always leaned a bit to the rock side of blues, with guitar influences from Texas legends Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddy King, Gatemouth Brown, and more. He's joined here by a power trio of Kevin McKendree (keyboards), Steve Mackey (bass) and Lynn Williams (drums), along with a couple of horn players (Jim Hoke, Quentin Ware) checking in on two numbers. I'm thinking that Ice Cream In Hell has a little more blues content than past albums, but I'll let you make your own judgment.

All songs here are Ellis originals, with the mid-tempo blues shuffle "Last One To Know" giving all band members and guests a chance to show their stuff, with the individual parts melding together very well. Ellis shines on guitar on the up-tempo funky number "Don't Know Beans," on which he denies what his woman thinks she saw .... "... You don't know beans, you don't know me at all ..." A fun tune from start to finish.

The title cut is an outstanding mid-tempo blues in which Ellis warns that same woman that, "... When they serve ice cream in hell, I'm going to take you back ...," before attacking with a monster guitar solo. The always excellent McKendree gets to shine on piano on the up-tempo shuffle, "Foolin' Yourself," before Ellis pours out the pain in his soul on the slow blues "Hole In My Heart."

Ellis goes into rapid fire mode on guitar on the up-tempo blues "Sit Tight Mama." before slowing the tempo just a bit while firing off some heavy guitar licks on "No Stroll In The Park," complemented by fine organ accompaniment from McKendree. The latter also gets a big part in "Evil Till Sunrise," on which Ellis finally realizes that he needs to take everyone's advise and change his ways while also working in some funky guitar effects.

We get another batch of scorching guitar mixed into the mid-tempo "Everything And Everyone," highlighted by Williams' slightly offbeat drumming. One of the better cuts comes next with the drivin' blues shuffle "Unlock My Heart," with echo behind Ellis' vocals and nice piano from McKendree. Ellis wants to be rid of his mean-hearted woman because she's doing him no good. "... You're drinking liquor like water, you're the talk of the neighborhood ..."

Wrapping it up is a number that shows why Ellis can't leave that woman, a slow blues on which he tells her that "Your Love's Like Heroin." He thought he could control the love, but it's got a death grip on him. Lots of mournful blues guitar here from Ellis as he also pours out the pain in his heart that this love has caused him.

Ice Cream In Hell is just another in a long line of great releases by Ellis. Maybe it's recency bias, but right now Ice Cream In Hell is zooming to the top on my list of Tinsley Ellis. Recommended.

--- Bill Mitchell



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