Blues/rock titan Tinsley Ellis digs deeper into himself and his inspirations than ever before on his new Alligator Records release Devil May Care. Set to drop on January 21st, 2022, the album is a result of Ellis’ mandatory pandemic lockdown period, a time when his coping mechanism was to push himself to grow as a songwriter. He set up all of his gear, including amps and guitars that had been idle for quite some time, in his home studio and let different combinations of tones lead him in new directions. He also explored the far-reaches of his record collection to find obscure, powerful sounds by his favorite artists including The Allman Brothers Band, Freddie King, Michael Bloomfield, and B.B. King. By the time Ellis came up for a breath, he had written an astonishing 200 new songs. Ten of these new tracks make up Devil May Care and take Tinsley’s unique blend of hard blues and Southern Rock to unprecedented heights.
Devil May Care is Ellis’ 20th album as a leader since he began his solo career back in 1988. He is widely known as a ferocious live performer on both guitar and vocals, one who can articulate the intersection of blues and rock in a righteous, original way. He’s toured the world and elsewhere, shared stages with luminaries like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Leon Russell, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, and Albert Collins, made #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart, and has been recognized with multiple Blues Music Award nominations. He’s long been considered one of the leading proponents of contemporary blues music and has become one of the most popular artists in the genre.
Devil May Care opens with a “One Less Reason,” a blast of sweet, Southern Rock two-guitar tactics laid down over a shuffling blues groove. It’s a tip of the hat to the Allman Brothers’ sound that never results in mimicry, only respect. Ellis uses the Allman framework to build a house for the core intangibles of his own style that shine brightly to anyone who has followed current blues artists over the last few decades. He’s one of the few left with an audible mode of his own and you’ll know it’s him as soon as you hear it. That’s what makes him great.
Slide guitar fans will get way into the rocking and hypnotic “Right Down The Drain.” The track is Southern Rock done to perfection, based in blues bedrock and infused with a stony, good-time vibe that turns it into something else. Ellis’ slide work and vocals are absolutely fired up and complemented by his paint-tight band of Kevin McKendree (organ and piano), Steve Mackey (bass), and Lynn Williams (drums and percussion). McKendree also co-produced Devil May Care with Ellis and the two men show themselves to be a high-powered studio brain trust, especially on knock-out punches like this one.
“Juju” smokes and simmers, full of more expressive slide playing, bold vocals, and fine keyboard work. This type of material is a great sound for Ellis, as it allows him to bring all of his inspirations to the party at the same time and play with complete freedom. As always, his guitar tones are sinewy and thick. Ellis has always had one of the best guitar sounds in the game and listening to him continue that tradition is a wonderful thing.
Other outstanding selections on Devil May Care include the heartbreaking rock ballad “Don’t Bury Our Love,” the horn-enhanced funk of “Step Up,” and the slow and emotional Texas blues of “Slow Train To Hell.” Through it all, Ellis exhibits true stylistic mastery and the kind of songwriting ability that will keep American music alive and interesting for lifetimes yet to come. Highly recommended.