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Speak No Evil

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Album Review

Tinsley Ellis has worked hard since the early 1980s to establish himself on the contemporary blues scene. As a result, he has become one of the most consistent, and therefore quintessential, electric blues men. Ellis is a an excellent guitar player and a terrific showman. He's a good songwriter in that he stretches the blues form as far as it will go, and occasionally he crosses into solid hard rock territory. On Speak No Evil, it seems as though Ellis has been listening to some of Robin Trower's early to mid-period records. That's not a bad thing: Trower is one of the great modern bluesmen who has been remarkably consistent over the decades, and he is one of the more astonishingly soulful guitar heroes alive. What seems to be at work on Speak No Evil is Ellis trying to push the blues form in a decidedly more rockist direction without losing its emotional feel. And he's done his job. Check out the opening track, "Sunlight of Love" With its hard-driven wah-wah pedals and funky backbeat; one can easily imagine this track on Trower's Twice Removed from Yesterday — Ellis even apes vocalist James Dewar's vocal phrasing. It's a killer track and a sheer surprise, — especially with a B-3 providing such a powerful atmospheric backdrop in the power trio format. Another number in this vein is "The Night Is Easy" (all that's missing are the phase shifters!). One more cut reminiscent of Trower is "It Takes What It Takes," a mellower number that might have come from one of that guitarist's middle-period recording such as Caravan to Midnight. It's a minor-key blues played with such an elastic sense of phrasing that the track becomes a psychedelic soul-blues cut. What's as impressive as Ellis' guitar playing is how much improved his singing is — it has grown more expressive and gained some subtlety as time has gone on. That's not to say there aren't a couple of vintage Ellis scorchers here, because there are plenty. Check the tough strut and swagger of "Slip and Fall" or the closing number "Rockslide" as just a couple of examples. Speak No Evil is an ambitious album from Ellis; he's continued to grow musically and aesthetically without losing an ounce of his own identity in the process. If there is one complaint about this album, it's the cookie cutter production that is the curse of the Alligator label, and not Ellis' fault. With Speak No Evil Ellis has made an album as solid as can be.


Born: 04 June 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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Speak No Evil, Tinsley Ellis
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