Tinsley Ellis – Ice Cream In Hell
Tinsley Ellis was born in 1957 and began his musical career in his teens. His first album at age 21 was Georgia Blue on Alligator Records. He stayed with them for five more albums, went over to Capricorn and Telarc for a few and then self released 4 albums and returned to Alligator in 2018 with Winning Hand which garnered all sorts of attention including a Blues Blast Music Award nomination. This is his 18th CD and, frankly, I think they keep getting better and better.
He spent much of the last year touring with Tommy Castro and with the release of this he’s on a solo tour promoting it around the globe. Featured here on the CD along with Tinsley Ellis on guitars and vocals are producer Kevin McKendree on organ, pianos, and rhythm guitar on “Sit Tight Mama,” Steve Mackey on bass, and Lynn Williams on drums and percussion are the main players. Jim Hoke on the Sax and Quentin Ware on trumpet do the great horn work on two cuts. All 11 tracks are new and were written by Tinsley.
“Last One To Know” opens the album, a slower cut with a driving beat and stinging guitar work by Ellis. His solos are restrained but impressive and he takes us out with the final, fuzzed up one. The organ vibe and horns give the song a fullness that goes with Tinsley’s strident vocals; a nice opener for this set! He follows that with “Don’t Know Beans,” a more uptempo piece with angry words between two lovers and Ellis expressing to his woman does not understand what she’s seen or heard. He delivers an outstanding guitar solo backed by the B3 organ. He sings with passion and urgency here. “Ice Cream In Hell” is next, the title cut. The pace slows down again as Ellis croons and emotes; he also plays some killer guitar here, really impressive and powerful stuff. With “Foolin’ Yourself,” Ellis romps and rolls and bounces through a neat little number with more strident guitar and some cool piano and organ backing him. Slow and powerful blues is next with “Hole In My Heart,” a song with grit and emotion delivered with great feeling. The horns return in support as Ellis and McKendree let it all hang out. The beat gets turned up for “Sit Tight Mama,” a sweet tune with a driving boogie and more superb guitar and cool and clear vocal work done to perfection. Ellis slides in Hound Dog Taylor style here, giving a nice stylistic nod to the great Chicago blues man.
“No Stroll In The Park” has Ellis shifts gears again; here he plays some dirty licks on guitar as McKendree impresses the listener on the organ. Big sounding guitar licks and keyboard work make this one another impressive song. “Evil Till Sunrise” is a mid tempo blues cut with a rocking feel and a bit of funkiness going for it, too. Ellis gets a little Latin vibe going for “Everything And Everyone.” Perhaps a bit of a Santana-esque feel, it’s got a cool groove and Ellis plays with power and poignancy. Great stuff and the piano and organ really help make this a full and marvelous cut. He continues with “Unlock My Heart,” a sweet and swinging cut with some barrelhouse piano and backing vocals that give the song a lift. Ellis’ guitar once again blazes as he smokes his way through another great tune. He finishes up the album with “Your Love’s Like Heroin,” a long and somber piece of music where Ellis and McKendree both play with deep emotion. Tinsley pines that his woman’s “love is like heroin and it’s killing him by degrees.” He can’t control it and it’s taking him down. The vocals are dark and cool. The guitar is equally full of feeling and emotion and McKendree helps out with some equally nice organ work. Emotional stuff and a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful new CD.
Ellis has produced a superb album here. He’s hitting it hard on the road, showing America and the world that he is one of the preeminent blues guitar players and musicians out there. “A musician never got famous staying home,” Ellis says. He is a road warrior still, performing over 150 nights each year. “I’ve seen it all,” the Atlanta based Ellis said. Born in South Florida, Atlanta has long been his home for his four decade plus career. “And a lot of my audience has been along for the entire time. It’s not always easy. But the payoff is the music. That’s the ice cream.” One has to marvel at his fortitude and drive, staying fresh in his sound and original in his work.
This is a great CD and a no-brainer to add to your collection. You will enjoy it over an over again as it gets lots of airplay and likely gets Ellis nominated for even more awards.