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Relive the explosion of the birth of modern blues/rock
Tim Holek | 05/20/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"TINSLEY ELLIS AND THE HEARTFIXERS
Cool On It
Alligator ALCD 3905
Tinsley Ellis effortlessly blends gritty urban blues with edgy rock and roll. Born in Atlanta, and raised in South Florida, Ellis picked up the guitar as a youngster. Despite attaining regional success with the Heartfixers in the Southeast, he abandoned the group in 1987 with the goal to achieve national prosperity. This album was originally released in 1986 on Landslide Records. The recording brought Ellis to the attention of Alligator Records, who originally signed him in 1988. In 1991, Alligator re-released it "so more people could discover Tinsley Ellis and this terrific band". You can use it to relive the explosion of the birth of modern blues/rock.
"Drivin' Woman" sounds similar to Buddy Guy's "She's Out There Somewhere". On it, Ellis heartily roars out the vocals, and mixes Chicago blues guitar with rock guitar on a fiery lead break. During the title track, Ellis' pipes have as much presence as his simmering guitar. This begins a kinetic force that doesn't stop for 39 minutes. There is a Stevie Ray Vaughan tone present on these first two tunes. In addition to Ellis, two fellow band members sing. Rockabilly blues and someone's Walter Trout-like voice appear on "Hong Kong Mississippi". The vocals on "Second Thoughts" combine 1950s Elvis with 1970s George Thorogood. "Tulane" is a tribute to the forefathers of rock and roll - Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson. The spunky instrumental, "Greenwood Chainsaw Boogie", contains some aggression. The song begins to provide a glimpse into Ellis' future music. As does the touching instrumental "Sailor's Grave On The Prairie". Of course, Ellis would go on to become well known for his melancholic instrumentals and dramatic ballads about bad relationships. His slow burning blues ballads like "Time To Quit" continue to be a highlight of his current records and concerts. Without a doubt, it is the best part of this record. At nine minutes, this song accounts for 25% of the music on the album. Here, Ellis does not play with over-bearing power or speed. Instead, he plays expressively which is uncommon in this branch of blues. The song is awesome, but it seems out of place with all the other pop/rock quickies, e.g., "Second Thoughts", which sound too similar.
Surely these guys must have torn up the college circuit in their day. Using an old fashioned rock and roll format, Dave Cotton's fluctuating sax keeps a party atmosphere present throughout the record. But beware that this is not the same rocked up Ellis from his numerous solo records on Alligator, nor the balanced Ellis from other labels. If this disc featured more blues, and only Ellis' steadfast vocals, I would have rated it higher.
--- Tim Holek