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Tough Love

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Album Review

When it comes to modern electric blues, Tinsley Ellis has always been the exception to the rule. He has always understood that the music's roots are more about feel than chops (though he is rightfully celebrated for them). Musically, he displays that different genre bends — blues, country, jazz, soul, R&B, and of course rock & roll — are part of an inseparable American musical heritage. Tough Love is Ellis' third set for his own Heartfixer label. He penned all ten tracks and produced the date with engineering and mixing help from keyboardist Kevin McKendree. Drummer Lynn Williams remains, but bassist Ted Pecchio has been replaced by Steve Mackey. Though Ellis has cut many different kinds of records, this is the first to display his considerable abilities as a singer. Things get off to a choogling start with "Seven Years," a minor-key, midtempo heartbreak groover that contains plenty of stinging lead fills, with McKendree's electric piano and B-3 fueling the rhythm section. It's followed by "Midnight Ride," a dirty-ass, good-time boogie. "Give It Away" is a soulful, Americana blues ballad with Ellis playing an acoustic National Steel. And this is the gift of the album in three tracks: he delivers three variants on the blues, in as many vocal approaches — all of them excellent. Each song has its merits in craft and execution — these days he's not writing any substandard ones — but there are other clear highlights. "All in the Name of Love," another minor-key, midtempo slider, showcases electric piano and B-3 as Ellis' voice evokes the soul-blues. (Think Solomon Burke.) His guitar eventually catches up with ringing, emotive fills. A horn section punctuates the margins and it works so well, it makes one wish he'd used it more than on just this one tune. "Should I Have Lied" is a stone-electric blues ballad that crosses Albert King with T-Bone Walker, all in Ellis' phrasing. Leave Me" is a strutting blues rocker, while "The King Must Die" is a dark, brooding, swampy jam that showcases the band at their intuitive best under his six-string storm. Closer "In from the Cold" (on which McKendree plays a Mellotron) is a steamy, emotionally wrought blues. It rumbles from the depths, its emotion wrenching and desperate; Ellis' playing is lyric and forceful, it bites, snarls, and cuts. While he has issued plenty of fine records, he's never revealed himself as such an axe slinger, singer, and songwriter with this magnitude and abundance. Tough Love is a tough record to beat.

Customer Reviews

Knuckleheads show was awesome

I saw this great blues artist last week in Kansas City at Knuckleheads venue. Man does this cat still have what it takes. He played a few songs from the new album. Like a fine wine the guy just gets better and better. He is a gifted musician and plays from the heart. Catch one of his shows .... You won't regret it...or forget it.

Tinsley Ellis-Tough Love

I've long been a Tinsley Ellis fan and my band even does several covers off many of his past CD releases. Unfortunately, I have never gotten to see him play live. I definitely looked forward to hearing this album. Can't say that I have a collection of all his releases, but do have many of them. I have always associated Tinsley Ellis with his hard driving blues most notably found on his ' Fire It Up' release and his instrumental prowess uniquely showcased on last year's 'Get It' CD. This CD, as with the 'Get It' CD was self-released departing from his past and long term association with Alligator Records, the well known blues label.

We also find that 'Tough Love' departs from the hard driving styles found on 'Say Too Much', & 'One Sunny Day', and the funkified blues of 'Double Eyed Whammy' and is more reminiscent of melancholy blues style found in the Midnight Blue CD song, 'Kiss of Death'. Don't make the mistake of thinking this blues release is not a party in the making; it's just more of a laid back party rather than a drunken night on the town. There are some super tasteful shuffles 'Everything' with its zydeco feel and 'Midnight Ride' that offers that night on the town I mentioned. Another cut 'Give it Away' is strongly reminiscent of Eric Clapton's latest stylings; if I had been blindfolded I might have guessed that it was Clapton himself. 'Should I Have Lied' along with several of the cuts on this CD really show off Ellis' tasteful but powerful blues licks and the slide guitar work elsewhere also permeates a couple of cuts but never overpowers Tinsley's voice and lyrics.

For me, this is a CD release that needs to be taken as a whole as I have not picked a single cut that is a 'favorite'. Rather, after several listenings, it's an album that has become a Tinsley Ellis standout CD. Set yourself back in relaxation mode and just dig the blues as Tinsley Ellis delivers it, strong when needed, thoughtful in its lyrics, tasteful in his guitar licks, and totally a delightful release.

Tinsley Ellis

I have had the great pleasure of seeing Tinsley several times my first experience was at Manny’s Car Wash in New York City. Then When I moved to Vegas overtime he came to Blues on Boulder at Boulder Station. Always a Great Show.


Born: June 4, 1957 in Atlanta, GA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A hard-rocking, high-voltage blues guitarist most often compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tinsley Ellis is hardly one of the legions of imitators that comparison might imply. Schooled in a variety of Southern musical styles, Ellis draws not only from fiery Vaughan-style blues-rock, but also Texas bluesmen like Freddie King and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the soulful blues of B.B. King, the funky grit of Memphis soul, and numerous other electric bluesmen. Ellis has been praised in many quarters for...
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Tough Love, Tinsley Ellis
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