If the music and radio business today was the way it was in
the early 1970’s, Tinsley Ellis would be one of the biggest rock acts in the
world. He is a guitar slinger/hero firmly rooted in the blues/rock tradition of
Clapton, Duane Allman and Billy Gibbons. From Atlanta, he is also firmly entrenched in the
southern rock tradition and one of his earlier albums was produced by the
legendary Tom Dowd. Speak No Evil is
his 12th album and it might just be the best of his career. It
includes all original songs that display his most mature fretwork and
songwriting to date.
The cover of the CD shows a close up picture of Ellis’ left
hand bending the strings on his guitar neck. What you see is what you get. This
is a collection of up-tempo guitar-driven hard-rocking blues. The first track
on the album is “Sunshine of Love.” While the title might evoke the Cream song
with a similar name, the wailing guitar puts Ellis firmly in Hendrix country.
Ellis uses six different guitar tunings on this album. Another standout track,
“Amanda,” displays a late ‘60’s psychedelic feel with its use of the wa-wa
pedal. The title track, “Speak No Evil,” is one of the slowest and most bluesy
songs on the album. It shows the influence of the late great Chicago bluesman, Luther Allison, who was a
master at making his guitar sing the song along with him, as well as Buddy Guy.
Ellis is assisted here by his long time rhythm
section/touring band of The Evil One on bass and Jeff Burch on percussion,
along with two guest keyboard men, Kevin McKendree and Pete Orenstein. And on
songs like “Left Of Your Mind” and “Grow a Pair” you can hear the band work their
way into a hard driving ZZ Top style deep groove.
But Speak No Evil displays
not only Ellis’ musicianship but also his songwriting ability Ellis knows how
to tell a story. The standout track here is “The Other Side.” Ellis has spent
30 years on the road and still does 150 gigs a year. This song is an intense
look at drug addiction, highlighted by Ellis’s gruff but soulful voice. He
sings, “Walk right like a zombie/ Nothing behind those eyes/ Can’t you see the
tombstones?/ You’re not just getting high /I can see what you’re trying to
hide/ Since you won’t be around much longer/ Let’s just plan to meet on the
The album closes with the brilliant “Rockslide,” a perfectly
named instrumental that pays tribute to the real electric slide blues master,
Elmore James. Clapton and Allman and all great guitar slingers were students of
Elmore. And “Rockslide” is something that could have come right off the
master’s Fire sessions.
Speak No Evil is the
work of a journeyman guitarist at his best. It should appeal to anybody who
loves blues/rock guitar. Tinsley Ellis is keeping that tradition alive and the
result here is a hell of a lot of fun.
Standout Tracks: “The
Other Side” “Amanda” “Rockslide” TOM CALLAHAN