Tinsley Ellis: Devil May Care Review

Audiences know singer/guitarist Tinsley Ellis for his Southern rock influenced blues, but on Devil May Care, Ellis adds a heavy dose of soul to the musical mix.

Ellis was touring 2020’s Ice Cream in Hell when Covid shut everything down. He returned to Atlanta to wait out the pandemic, and like so many, found surprising projects to occupy his time. In Ellis’ case, it was going through his gear and music, bringing out old amps, guitars, and albums that he hadn’t touched for, in some cases, decades. The music poured out of the already-prolific Ellis (Devil May Care is his 20th album) and 18 months later, he had some 200 songs.

However, the smart thing about Devil May Care is that it weighs in at a lean 10 tracks. There’s no filler here. You’re getting the best of the best and you can tell right away. Devil May Care is also a slow-burn of a record, with tracks gradually building in intensity, but not tempo or volume. Ellis turns up the heat on his slower tracks, keeping the listener engaged, but never letting his tunes boil over into pointless soloing and over-emoting.

“Just Like Rain” is slow, sweet, and soulful, with a heavy Allman Brothers influence, from the organ to the vocals to the country-influenced groove. Horns flesh out the tune, giving the song a drama and seriousness, but Ellis’ guitar solo, which doesn’t come until almost the end of the track, is the cherry on the sundae, sounding like he’s putting every ounce of feeling into his melodic playing. It’s thoughtful and well-constructed.

“Juju” has a similar Allman Brothers feel, the slide guitar riff reminiscent of their “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” The album doesn’t feature much jamming, but Ellis indulges in an epic ride-out, where his guitar goes toe-to-toe with Kevin McKendree’s organ and piano, not for long, but for enough time to sweep you up into a swirl of music that’s also intentional.

Which brings us to another strength of Devil May Care. The instrumental core of the album is Tinsley, McKendree (both of whom co-produced the album), and the rhythm section. But while it’s four people, the tracks often feel huge. For example, on “One Less Reason,” Ellis layers his guitars over and adjacent to each other, making it sound like he’s playing with another guitarist. The multiple guitars give the track a depth that’s harder to achieve with a live feel recording strategy, where one guitar handles everything. It also makes the songs sound complete and less like music created to generate set lists for eventual live shows. However, you can certainly imagine how a track like “One Less Reason,” even with the multiple Tinsley-played guitar parts, will thrive in front of an audience.

Devil May Care is about restraint. Ellis had a lot of songs and a lot of time and in the hands of many artists, that’s a recipe for disaster. But Ellis used both resources to create a tight album of strong songs that are also incredibly well-produced. There’s plenty of hot guitar, but it’s deployed mindfully, creating an album of soul rock you won’t soon forget.

The Review: 9/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Beat the Devil
– Juju
– Step Up
– One Less Reason
– Just Like Rain

The Big Hit

– Just Like Rain

Buy the album: Amazon | Amazon UK

Steven Ovadia

Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.

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