Houston Calling

Review: Robert Ellis, Photographs

July 1st, 2011 · 5 Comments

Robert Ellis
New West Records

Making him a name for himself with a stellar debut (2009’s The Great Rearranger) and a weekly residency playing old-school country covers at Houston clubs, Ellis’ latest release is full of snapshots of a man growing more mature. Some of the songs are actually downright cute, with Ellis singing about the day-to-day aspects of life and love, such as painting a house with his woman (“Two Cans Of Paint”), driving back from an out-of-town gig to be with his woman (“Comin’ Home”), and the strains of being in a relationship with the woman (“What’s In It For Me?”, “No Fun”).

The album is very distinctly split down the middle, and Ellis gives listeners a taste of his influences—both folk and country. Photographs‘ first five tracks are mellow folk songs with softly strummed acoustic guitar and subtle pedal steel, while its second half is made up of full-on country romps and ballads (helped along by drummer Ryan Chavez, guitarist Kelly Doyle, bassist Geoffrey Muller, and pedal steel guitarist Will Van Horn). The shift in styles is abrupt at first listen—and was likely designed to be played on vinyl—but is further evidence of how masterfully Ellis crosses genres.

Although Photograph‘s folksier moments bring to mind the sincerity and simplicity of early James Taylor—especially on the impressive opener “Friends Like Those”—Ellis’ classic country influences are apparent throughout. The album’s most countrified moment is “What’s In It For Me?” (available on limited edition vinyl at his website and which you can stream here), a throwback reminiscent to any number of 70s-era country songs. And that’s the beauty of Ellis’ music: it’s good enough to hold its own with the greats (he gives nods to “Lefty, Willie, Hank, and Townes” on “Comin’ Home”) while still appealing to a diverse audience. Where a lesser musician playing this style of music might come off hackneyed or derivative, Ellis instead brings a smooth, irony-free approach that lends honesty to his songs. And there’s not much more a listener can ask of an album.

Robert Ellis returns to Texas soon from a week-long residency in Portland to play CD release shows in Austin at Cactus Cafe this Tuesday (7.5.11) and in Houston at Fitzgerald’s this Wednesday (7.6.11) before heading back out on tour.

Get your copy of Photographs at Amazon, Cactus Music, and other record stores this Tuesday, 7.5.11.

More information may be found at www.robertellismusic.com.

See a live video of “What’s In It For Me?” after the jump. 

Tags: Music · Reviews · Show listings

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