Release date: January 21, 2022
By Greg Easterling
Alligator Records' first release of 2022 is a solid new recording by longtime Alligator mainstay
Tinsley Ellis entitled Devil May Care. The follow up to his 2020 release Ice Cream In Hell, it is Ellis' 20th album of a solo recording career that began with Alligator and the album Georgia Blue back in 1988. The title of that album declared his Southern roots, an influence that is still heard prominently in the songs of Devil May Care.
Ellis has spent much of the pandemic off the road and writing new material at home that resulted in over 200 new songs! He selected the best ten original compositions for inclusion here on Devil May Care showcasing his accomplished six string skills and gritty vocals. These are songs of beginnings and endings
making for a great listen from start to finish.
The first three songs of Ellis' new release are reminiscent of The Allman Brothers Band, a
connection that has its origin in shared geography by the way. Duane and Gregg Allman spent their formative musical years in Daytona Beach, Florida eventually landing in Macon, Georgia, the home of their record label Capricorn Records. Ellis was born in Atlanta but raised in southern Florida where he came under the influence of the Allmans and the artists that were important to them such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, The Yardbirds and Cream. Eventually Ellis moved back to Atlanta where he played in local bands such the Alley Cats and The Heartfixers.
The song “One Less Reason” leads off Devil May Care with an Allmans like guitar riff that reminds of their arrangement of “Trouble No More.” Ellis rationalizes the end of a love affair with a chorus of “I've got one less reason to cry” with clever lyrics such as “The monkey was off our backs but the circus was still in town.” Ellis takes two solos here, a pattern that is repeated throughout the album. Alligator has selected “One Less Reason” as the first “radio focus track” of the album, formerly referred to as “the single” harkening back to the days when the most radio friendly song of the album was pressed as a 45 rpm vinyl record with an A and a B side, a practice that eventually was replaced by the CD single.
“Right Down The Drain” follows the album opener with a slight Clapton kind of feel and a notable slide solo from Ellis. Next, the tempo slows on “Just Like Rain” with reflections “on a Sunday morning, no one else around” reminding of the Allmans' “Please Come Home” from Idlewild South. Ellis delivers a soulful solo with tastefully appropriate organ support from keyboardist Kevin McKendree who co-produced Devil May Care; he also recorded and mixed the album at The Rock House in Franklin, Tennessee. “Let love live forever in our hearts” sings Ellis, “It may take a lifetime just to ease the pain.” The only complaint here is that the track fades prematurely to these ears at 4:30 when there might be more to offer.
Cut number four “Beat The Devil” gives the horns of saxist Jim Hoke and Andrew Carney on trumpet a more prominent support role. There's some fine soloing from Ellis here with the sympathetic backing of keyboardist McKendree, Steve Mackey on bass and Lynn Williams on drums and percussion.
Next “Don't Bury Our Love” bears a strong resemblance to Al Kooper's Blood, Sweat and Tears classic “I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know” later covered by Irish bluesman Gary Moore. Ellis has mentioned Super Session, Kooper's collaboration with Chicago guitar legend Mike Bloomfield as an early influence that led him to go see B.B. King in concert, a life changing experience for Ellis. While he sings “It's not over”, you know it really is and” Don't Bury Our Love” is more of an epitaph than a resurrection of a failed love.
The following track “Juju” utilizes a riff that reminds of the Allmans' “Ain't Wastin' Time No More” from Eat A Peach with piano support from McKendree that echoes Chuck Leavell's later contributions to the Brothers. It's a recommended track for sure. Then “Step Up” adds some funk and urgency with an uplifting message to “step up to higher ground” making it one of the most compelling of the album.
“One Last Ride” is the longest track of Devil May Care with its plea for one more time with a lost love. The guitar solos are especially good on this memorable mid-tempo track. “28 Days” follows with Ellis putting his wah wah pedal to good use and is one of the album's fastest tempo cuts highlighted by some tasty guitar rhythms and soloing. Devil May Care reaches the finish with “Slow Train To Hell” one of the album’s longer tracks clocking in at 5:15 and some fine solos once more.
Alligator Records' first release of the year comes at a time when people are perhaps hungry for great music both live and prerecorded. Devil May Care is an album that informs and entertains, proudly displaying classic influences to inspire and remind us of the rich heritage of blues-inspired rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Tinsley Ellis's latest is a comfortable listen that brings the best elements of Southern music to the home of the blues, Chicago. Look for Ellis in the local blues clubs once more, at the appropriate time that is comfortable for all of us again.
Tinsley Ellis will perform on March 13, 2022 at SPACE in Evanston, IL
For info or to buy the music: www.tinsleyellis.com
About the Author: Greg Easterling is a veteran Chicago radio air personality and media member of the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. He is the host of American Backroads on WDCB, 90.9 FM in the Chicago area, Thursday nights at 9 p.m. Greg spins funk and fusion jazz rock, on the Friday into Saturday overnight shift, on WDCB from 12 mid-5 a.m.