Tinsley Ellis has been making great music since his early teens. From early masterpieces like 1989’s Fanning The Flames, through last year’s brilliant release, Midnight Blue, his work has always been about quality, and feeling. As anyone that has seen him live will attest, Ellis pours all of himself into his performances, playing with passion, and honesty. It is these qualities that have earned Ellis the enthusiastic fan base he enjoys.
Tough Love, is Ellis’ third album on his Heartfixer Music label, and follows on the heels of Midnight Blue, his critically acclaimed, hugely successful 2014 release. Personnel on this album are Tinsley Ellis – guitar and vocals, as well as harmonica and piano; Kevin McKendree, keyboards; Steve Mackey, bass; and Lynn Williams, drums.
Tough Love features 10 tracks, all written by Ellis, clocking in at just over 46 minutes. We enjoyed the entire album, but found some tracks especially interesting. The album’s opener, “Seven Years” has Ellis singing about the pain of a seven year love that vanishes in one night after his lady has a one night stand. The track features pointed picking, great rhythm playing, and a shimmering lead. “Midnight Ride” is a jamming track with a Texas honky-tonk vibe that will have folks up and moving on the floor. “All In the Name of Love” is Ellis at his best. This track is dripping with passion and soulful blues, guided by that great, steady pumping beat that he enjoys so playing over. The band is really kicking, and this is topped off with perfect horn and keyboard fills. The icing on the cake is the smooth vocal, and crack guitar work Ellis lays down. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Other winning tracks include “Should I Have Lied,” again showcasing fine guitar lines and vocals from Ellis, with a nod toward the B.B. King/Eric Clapton vibe so prevalent throughout their Riding With the King album. This is a really solid performance. “The King Must Die” features another strong, hard vocal, along with an abundance of texture, exquisitely layered for an aural experience that has beautiful depth. The album’s closer, “In From The Cold,” is slow, and seductively decadent with its gently piercing guitar work, and hypnotic keyboard work from Kevin McKendree.
Ellis has always delivered on the promise of music that has passion and heart. His music is played with honesty and integrity that doesn’t rely on gimmicks and flash. Ellis is the real deal, and always has been. Tough Love is his best work to date, and will be a worthy addition to any blues lover’s collection.