This one you’ve got to check out.
The forthcoming album by Tinsley Ellis, out February 9 via Alligator Records, shows how Ellis’ interest in trying new things continues more than four decades into his career. On Naked Truth, the bluesman known for his electric sound unplugs to go all acoustic. It’s a challenge he’s wanted to take on for a while, and the material he’s releasing as a result of those efforts comes as a brilliant addition to his extensive catalog.
The 12-track album is Ellis’ first since 2022’s Devil May Care. It kicks off with “Devil in the Room,” a track that harkens back to the traditional blues greats who first inspired Ellis when he was a kid. Ellis captivates his listeners’ attention with the riff he repeats on his 1937 National Steel O Series guitar, his foot-tapping rhythm driving the song steadily forward. The steel guitar reappears throughout the album and is one of just two that Ellis used in recording this project, the other being a 1969 Martin D-35 that he got from his father.
After closing out “Devil in the Room,” Ellis shifts his attention to “Windowpane,” a quiet track about love and longing. Ellis’ somber lyrics nearly echo over his contemplative finger picking as the track embraces the sadness brought through its classic blues themes.
Ellis pays tribute to Son House next with a rendition of “Death Letter Blues,” one of three covers that appear on Naked Truth. Ellis later puts his spin on Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” as performed by Muddy Waters, and also covers Leo Kottke’s instrumental “The Sailor’s Grave on the Prairie.”
Of the nine original tracks that appear on Naked Truth, three join Kottke’s song as fellow instrumentals: “Silver Mountain,” “Alcovy Breakdown” and album closer “Easter Song.” “Silver Mountain” and “The Sailor’s Grave on the Prairie” are the strongest of the instrumental set, though Ellis’ speedy playing on “Alcovy Breakdown” provides an extra dose of adrenaline for the album’s second half and “Easter Song” feels like a fitting final track as it leaves the album on a positive note.
Ellis’ instrumentals are sprinkled throughout his album. Their placement gives the listener a breather between Ellis’ vocals covering other traditional blues themes, such as the anger and betrayal resulting from a partner who walked out on “Tallahassee Blues” or “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades,” and the excitement of a dependable romantic partner on “Hoochie Mama.” The final song with lyrics on Naked Truth is “Grown Ass Man,” a snappy and unapologetic tune about mature love that shows Ellis in a comfortable groove as he progresses toward the end of his 21st album.
It’s a solid end for a strong album, and a great new sound from an artist best known among his fans for playing electric. If Ellis enjoys playing his new material live (he’s scheduled to launch a U.S. tour in support of the album once it drops), he’ll hopefully consider tackling another all-acoustic album sometime down the line.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Devil in the Room
– The Sailor’s Grave on the Prairie
– Grown Ass Man
The Big Hit
– Devil in the Room
Buy the album: Amazon