has really hit his stride since he began recording
for his own Heartfixer Music label. The Georgia-born
guitarist has produced quality recordings since the
mid ’80s, but his last three releases, the 2013
all-instrumental Get It. and 2014’s fine
Midnight Blue were his best overall releases
over his long career. However, Ellis tops both of
those with his latest release, Tough Love.
Ellis’ guitar work
has always been his strong suit, but with this new
release, he adds what may be his best vocal
performance and some of his best songwriting,
penning all ten songs. He moves easily through
several different variations of the blues, from the
soulful minor key blues tracks like “Seven Years”
and “All In The Name of Love,” to the blues rock of
“Midnight Ride,” to funky blues with “Hard Work,” to
country-styled Americana sounds (“Give It Away”).
There’s also “Should
I Have Lied,” a powerful ballad with some of Ellis’
best fretwork, and the haunting and intense “The
King Must Die.” Ellis even picks up the harmonica
for the swinging “Everything,” and plays Wurlitzer
piano on the closing track, “In From The Cold,” an
amazing slow blues burner.
Ellis, who also
produced the disc, gets able assistance from Kevin
McKendree, whose keyboards are a highlight
throughout, bassist Steve Mackey, drummer Lynn
Williams, and Jim Hoke (sax) and Steve Herrman
(trumpet) for one track.
I’ve followed Tinsley
Ellis since his earliest recordings for Alligator,
and he’s never sounded better than on Tough Love.
Maybe the freedom allowed by releasing his own music
on his own label has freed him up to play what he
wants the way he wants….I don’t know the reason, but
I do know that I like it, and so should any blues