By Nick Argyriou.
ROBERT ELLIS – ROBERT ELLIS
(NEW WEST RECORDS/WARNER MUSIC AUSTRALIA)
Houston, Texas troubadour Robert Ellis’ fourth release is a self-titled kaleidoscope of life post divorce, mental and physical displacement and further lifestyle metamorphoses. Oscillating between Houston, Nashville and Brooklyn over the past few years has given Ellis insight into shifting landscapes and dilapidated dreams, yet for all the trials and tribulations, his latest record retains a rather buzzing musical disposition.
Inspired by a book (Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird) given to him by fellow Texan, Hayes Carll, about crafting fiction, Ellis channels this into his songwriting process; the man more sharper with tone, lyric and intonation than he has ever been. Take ‘The High Road’ for example; a melody that recalls the opening bars to traditional American folk song ‘In the Pines’ before morphing into an orchestral-meets-flamenco ditty. Now that’s different. And daring.
Then Ellis is at his most transparent about his marriage breakdown on ‘Elephant’ as he utters: “We can adapt or maybe we could divorce/We could jump ship or we could easily change course” in a tune that coalesces the plucked Latino vibes of Ry Cooder with the minimalist composition of a Steve Reich.
‘You’re Not the One’ is driven by strings and reminiscent of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood in its score, but all the while the undercurrent of country music is there alongside the ambient touches and cocktail bar-style piano. Even a bossa nova shuffle, power-pop and ‘70s soft-rock feel sneak through the mix, not to mention the free-form jazz on closer ‘It’s Not Ok’ that proceeds to trail off into the ether with a burst of schizophrenic electric guitars.
The fact that Ellis recorded this with engineer Steve Christensen (Steve Earle) and that it was mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.) explains why. Super impressive release this one.