According to Atlanta-based blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Tinsley Ellis, his new, first-ever solo acoustic album, Naked Truth, is both “a departure and an arrival.” Ellis has been recording and travelling the world for over four decades, delivering his feral, guitar-fueled, original electric blues-rock to ever-growing audiences at concert halls, festivals, and clubs. Naked Truth is steeped in the folk blues traditions of Muddy Waters, Skip James, Son House, Robert Johnson and even Leo Kottke. To the casual fan, this might seem to be a new direction, but for Ellis, it’s an extension of his music, as he taps into the raw essence of the blues. “This is a record I’ve always wanted to make, and one that my longtime fans have been asking for,” he says, noting he’s included an acoustic mini-set in his concert performances for years. In the last 12 months, Ellis has already performed over 100 solo shows, many as co-bills with his Alligator label-mate Marcia Ball. “I’m having so much fun playing these shows,” he says.
On Naked Truth (his 21st album), Ellis swaps his blistering, guitar-fueled full band workouts for equally passionate, soul-searching acoustic folk blues. His famed guitar chops and musical creativity are on full display throughout the album’s 12 songs, including nine newly written originals. Naked Truth was produced by Ellis, with the foot-stomping cover of Son House’s Death Letter Blues produced by Atlanta roots musician Eddie 9V. The album was recorded live in the studio using Ellis’ beloved 1969 Martin D-35 (a gift from his father) and his 1937 National Steel O Series guitars. Whether intricately fingerpicking the Martin or playing hair-raising slide on the National Steel, Ellis delivers each song with unvarnished intimacy.
The opener, Ellis’ original Devil In The Room, comes from an expression Ellis’ close friend, the late Col. Bruce Hampton, would tell his musicians just before a show was about to begin (“We’re here to put the devil in the room,” he’d say). From the original, Skip James-inspired Windowpane to the Delta-styled Tallahassee Blues, to the humorous Grown Ass Man, Ellis goes deep, singing and playing the blues’ honest truths. The inclusion of four introspective instrumentals (including a transcendent cover of Leo Kottke’s A Soldier’s Grave On The Prairie, a song he’s been playing live for almost 50 years) adds even more depth and substance to an album overflowing with riches. Each song carries the weight, experience and hard-earned wisdom Ellis learned over four decades on the road, infusing Naked Truth with an emotional authenticity that is palpable from start to finish.
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