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Tinsley Ellis - Naked Truth

Release date: Feb. 9, 2024

Alligator Records
By Mark Baier

Photo: Kim Reed

For over 40 years, veteran guitarist, singer and songwriter Tinsley Ellis has crisscrossed the planet delivering feral original electric blues rock to an ever growing audience. Whether in a concert hall, festival or smoky club, Tinsley’s eloquent and razors edge guitar chops have earned him a devoted audience, and created so much demand that he’s released 20 albums in his career. His 21st release NAKED TRUTH (and his 13th for Alligator) is in his own words, both a departure and an arrival. Stripped of the full band that’s long been his signature, NAKED TRUTH showcases Tinsley’s solo side, all acoustic: 6 strings and the truth.

 NAKED TRUTH is undeniably a man and his guitar, intimate and laid bare. Why has this venerated electric guitar hero eschewed the band and stripped down the music? Ellis relates: “I think that in this format there’s a new depth to the emotion of my music. When it’s just you, your voice and your guitar, you have to deliver raw, honest emotion to your audience. You can’t just give them volume, energy and exciting playing. The audience has to feel what you’re putting into the song and has to believe you. When I play and sing in the solo acoustic format, there is truly no place to hide. I can’t hide behind a loud distorted guitar. I can’t hide behind a drum beat or a bass line. It’s just me and my instrument stripped bare of the other players and their various instruments. It’s a form of confession. It’s the artist's most honest musical statement of his or her songs.”


On the 12 songs on NAKED TRUTH, Tinsley definitely bares his soul--and also his sense of humor. From Son House’s haunting ”Death Letter Blues” and Muddy Waters lighthearted “Don’t Go No Further,” Ellis channels Skip James with the excellent cut “Windowpane,” and gets lusty and ironic with “Hoochie Mama” and “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades”. Throughout NAKED TRUTH, Ellis is eloquent and heartfelt. With nowhere to hide, his simple and emotional performances are authentic and captivating. The material is deeper than it seems on first listen, in addition the paying homage to blues greats gone by, Tinsley finds the room for four instruments selections that evoke equal parts Leo Kottke, Bert Jansch and Pete Townsend.


Of note is the fact that Tinsley used only two instruments in the live recording of NAKED TRUTH, a 1937 National style O and a 1969 Martin D-35. The two guitars have a personality of their own and are a treat to listen to. Recorded live and produced by Atlanta roots musician Eddie 9-V, NAKED TRUTH is an aural delicacy. The vintage instruments have a presence and quality that Tinsley manipulates with expertise; the recording is an absolute pleasure to experience.


Now, with NAKED TRUTH, Ellis is bringing this intimate music directly to his fans. His “two guitars and a car” tour will land at SPACE in Evanston on March 14th. “When folks come see me, I’ll have the guitars I used on the record with me, so what fans hears on the album is what they’ll get live. It’s not easy. Now I’m the whole band and there’s nowhere to hide. It’s scary every single time I go up on stage alone. But nothing could be more honest.” With NAKED TRUTH, Ellis has created a record that is both timeless and immediate. This is music that’s impossible not to enjoy


***** 5 stars, must have.

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