Tinsley Ellis has been making outstanding music since his teens, and has been loved by legions of fans for many years now. Tough Love is his third release on his own Heartfixer Music label, following the brilliant Midnight Blue. That album should have been hard to match, but Tough Love has done it. This one is indeed often tough and always passionate and honest, as listeners expect from Ellis.
It features Ellis on guitar, vocals, and harmonica and Kevin McKendree on keyboards, Steve Mackey on bass, and Lynn Williams on drums. The sound quality is excellent and there are no superfluous special effects or embellishments to detract from Ellis’ fervent and powerful vocals and the skilled musicianship of Ellis and his band. The entire album of original material showcases Ellis’ songwriting as well – all 10 songs are worthy of notice.
The first tune, “Seven Years,” uses classic blues rock riffs and expressive vocals to tell the story of a man who has to deal with the infidelity of his love after seven years together. This reviewer’s favorite track, “Midnight Ride,” is a honky-tonk rave-up that is bound to get you up and moving. “Give It Away” emphasizes Ellis’ smooth vocal while “Hard Work” has a jaunty beat but addresses the too common experience of working very hard just trying to find work.
“All in the Name of Love” shows a strong Eric Clapton influence. It is soulful blues with a steady beat and heartfelt vocal. McKendree provides tasteful keyboard runs on this one too. This is the Ellis we’ve known and loved since he began his career.
“Should I Have Lied” and “Leave Me” echo the classic blues men like B.B. King that Ellis loves so much. It allows Ellis to showcase his tasty blues guitar and that perfect blues voice. “Everything” adds a rockabilly edge to its blues while “The King Must Die” is a growling, gritty number. The album closes with the slow, seductive, and very powerful “In from the Cold,” once again featuring mesmerizing keyboards as well as Ellis’ mood-melting guitar.
When it comes to contemporary blues, Ellis is one of the very best and Tough Love captures him at his very best, with a band that complements him perfectly. Longtime fans and new listeners alike will be delighted.
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