Blues Bytes

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February 2024

Tinsley Ellis
Naked Truth
Alligator Records

Tinsley Ellis

I’ve been listening to and following Tinsley Ellis since I heard him perform at the Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival in 1988, and I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that Naked Truth (Alligator Records) is his first-ever solo acoustic release. That being said, Tinsley Ellis unplugged is nearly as “electric” as Tinsley Ellis plugged-In because of his always-dynamic playing. His acoustic approach cuts to the rawness of the music in a unique way.

These 12 songs (nine written by Ellis) were recorded live in the studio, using his 1969 Martin D-35 and his 1937 National Steel O Series guitar. The rumbling leadoff track, “Devil In The Room,” is from an expression Ellis heard from his close friend, the late Col. Bruce Hampton. “Windowpane” has a gentler touch, reminiscent of Skip James’ Bentonia brand of blues, both vocally and on guitar.

The rousing cover of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” was produced by fellow Atlanta artist Eddie 9V and Ellis captures the stirring intensity of House’s famous early 60’s version, and “Silver Mountain” is the first of four superb instrumentals. The second cover is a good-natured read of Muddy Waters’ (via Willie Dixon) “Don’t Go No Further.”

The second instrumental  (and third cover) is a breathtaking version of Leo Kottke’s “A Soldier’s Grave On The Prairie.” The energetic “Tallahassee Blues” and the relaxed “Hoochie Mama” are both terrific Delta-flavored blues, followed by the expeditious instrumental “Alcovy Breakdown.” “Horseshoes And Hand Grenades” revisits that Delta sound with Ellis’ clever lyrics giving the song a more contemporary touch.

The album wraps up with the jaunty “Grown Ass Man,” with more great songwriting from Ellis, and the serene instrumental closer, “Easter Song.” These lovely instrumentals really another side of his guitar playing that, hopefully, he will iinclude more on future releases.

Naked Truth is a wonderful addition to Tinsley Ellis’ catalog of recordings (21 in all) and should please his many fans as well as any fans of acoustic guitar.

--- Graham Clarke


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