Tinsley Ellis: Winning Hand Review

The thing about guitarist/singer Tinsley Ellis is he always plays just the right note at just the right time. He continues that incredible tradition on Winning Hand, a return to a more traditional blues sound. The album has a timeless feel that might send even the most knowledgeable blues lovers into the liner notes to see which songs are the originals and which is the cover.

The album is bookended by two contemporary-sounding tracks. “Sound of a Broken Man,” the album’s opening track is a funky blues in the style of many of the tracks from Red Clay Soul, his previous album. “Sound of a Broken Man” keeps the vocals slightly back in the mix and features a wild-yet-controlled solo with fantastic tone. Winning Hand concludes with “Saving Grace,” a slow, grinding blues right out of the classic Allman Brothers playbook, complete with a soaring guitar flying over church-like organ. The rest of the album is more traditional blues, evoking work no later than the late 1960s. “Nothing But Fine” sounds like a standard; a timeless blues shuffle but with a guitar sound so rich and three-dimensional, it could only have come out of modern recording. “Don’t Turn Off the Light” has a classic Albert King rhythm and blues groove, but with melodic soloing a la Carlos Santana.

While this is a guitar heavy record, one interesting wrinkle is the fantastic keyboard work, courtesy of Kevin McKendree, who also, perhaps unsurprisingly, produced the album. While Ellis’ guitar is always front and center, it’s supported by wonderful and surprising keyboard sounds. “Nothing But Fine” has delicate piano bobbing in and out of the song, while “Gamblin’ Man” features deep, rumbling organ and charming 1970s-era electric piano.

Winning Hand is a solid guitar record with a production quality that’s atypical of the blues guitar genre. It also helps that Ellis is a phenomenally tasteful player. In fact, if there’s one issue with the album, it’s that it sounds a little too perfect. Ellis never cuts loose or goes wild. In many respects, it’s a tribute to his discipline and respect for the songs. But sometimes listeners just want to hear a talented guitar player blow everyone away, if only for just one track.

The Review: 9/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Dixie Lullaby
– Kiss This World
– Autumn Run
– Saving Grace

The Big Hit

– Saving Grace

Review by Steve Ovadia

Buy the album: Amazon | Amazon UK

Pete Francis

Pete Francis is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Blues Rock Review. Pete founded Blues Rock Review in 2010 because he felt there was a major void in how the blues rock genre was covered. Pete is the host of Blues Rock Weekly and a co-host on the Blues Rock Show.

2 thoughts on “Tinsley Ellis: Winning Hand Review

  • Go see him live! Believe me , he will cut loose and blow you away!

    • Absolutely Amauri. In fact I posted a few hours ago that even though he has a nice sound recorded,
      you cannot appreciate the kind of musician he is unless you see him destroy a room live somewhere. It’s a sin
      to miss Tinsley if he is anywhere close.


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