By Megan Routledge.
On Friday, February 9, 2024, Alligator Records will release Naked Truth, the first-ever solo acoustic album from world-renowned Atlanta-based guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tinsley Ellis.The new album 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-fuelled 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 song, Devil In The Room, is musically a nod to the Hill Country Blues style of Mississippi Fred McDowell and R L Burnside," says Ellis. "Lyrically it’s based on something Col. Bruce Hampton used to tell us before we went on stage to back him up. He would tell us to 'put the devil in the room!' His call to arms has stuck with me for 40 years! On Devil In The Room I’m playing in open G tuning on my 1937 National O-Series steel resonator guitar with a brass slide.
According to Ellis, "Naked Truth is both a departure and an arrival.” He has been recording and traveling 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.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.
Since his first Alligator album in 1988, Georgia Blue, Ellis has gone from local Atlanta club favourite to become an internationally touring blues rock giant, performing hundreds of nights per year. He has brought his music to fans live in person to all 50 United States, as well as in Canada, across Europe, Australia and South America. He’s earned the love and respect of many of his fellow musicians, having shared stages with Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, The Allman Brothers, Warren Haynes, Oliver Wood, Buddy Guy, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic, and more. Over the years, legends including Otis Rush, James Cotton, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Buffett, Son Seals, Koko Taylor and Albert Collins invited Ellis to join them on stage. Mega-star guitarist Joe Bonamassa calls Ellis “a national treasure.”
Now, with Naked Truth, Ellis will bring his music directly to his fans. “Two guitars and a car,” he says of the simplicity of his North American touring situation. “When folks come to see me, I’ll have the guitars I used on the record with me, so what fans hear on the album is what they’ll get live. It’s not easy. Now I’m the whole band and there’s nowhere to hide. It’s scary every single time I go up on stage alone. But nothing could be more honest.”
Naked Truth is a revelation. Stripped of the electric fervor that defined his previous works, Ellis' acoustic music carries a rawness that speaks directly from his soul. The songs unveil another side of Tinsley Ellis, but one that is totally recognizable to his fans. His gruff, full-throated vocals intertwine seamlessly with the bare, acoustic arrangements, creating an album that is both timeless and immediate. No Depression says, “Ellis shines. When the tempo slows, the intensity doesn’t waver.” Blues Music Magazine states, “Tinsley Ellis is a powerful and commanding presence. His music is impossible not to enjoy.”
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