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Love, pain, heartbreak and loneliness by country singer-songwriters

February 19, 2014

The common link for the two albums in this week’s Ear Bliss spotlight is understatement. These days living in Nashville, Robert Ellis grew his singer/songwriter chops on the Houston, Texas, scene. “The Lights From the Chemical Plant” is his third release and a major artistic leap forward in his growth as both a singer and songwriter. Toronto is home to the singer/songwriter Doug Paisley. Paisley has also just released his third album and it is a perfect segue from the laid-back beauty of his 2010 release “Constant Companion,” an album which Rolling Stone Magazine described as a “nearly perfect singer-songwriter record.” Let’s take a look.

Robert Ellis
“The Lights From the
Chemical Plant”
New West Records
On his last album from 2011 called “Photographs,” the then Texas-based artist Robert Ellis delivered a two-sided mix of sounds, twangy honk tonkers on the one half and singer/songwriter fare on the other. As divided as the album was, so were fans of the album. Ellis himself has been quoted as wishing he had done things differently. On his new release titled “The Lights From the Chemical Plant,” Ellis all but ditches the country two-steppers for an album knee deep in mostly understated and folky singer-songwriter material. Considering how well received the “country” Ellis was on “Photographs,” it’s a bold and risky move. For a quick reference with this new one, think the spare sounds of early Willie Nelson where he was more about telling a story in song, with the occasional pop flare, than rousing an audience. Ellis’ voice is also not unlike a young Willie. The 11 songs comprising “The Lights From the Chemical Plant” deal in topics of love, pain, and loneliness. Ellis’ “quiet” approach allows the listener focus on the lyrics and his nuanced and tender tenor voice. It makes for some compelling listening. Listening to these songs, you get the feeling Ellis was a surgeon in crafting them making sure not a word is wasted or misplaced. “The Lights From the Chemical Plant” has been hailed by many camps as the arrival of Texas’ next great singer-songwriter. Whereas a pretty heady accolade for someone now only three albums into his career, Ellis clearly proves he is a singer/songwriter well worth seeking out. Visit

Doug Paisley
“Strong Feelings”
No Quarter Records
On his latest album called Strong Feelings, Toronto-based singer/songwriter Doug Paisley delivers as pretty a country song as you may lay ears on this coming year to lead off the record. Titled “Radio Girl,” it is a relationship song of a different color, that being between the radio and a song and a listener. A rambling country rocker with its light touches of twang guitar, piano, keyboards and tasty tambourine, it has the nostalgic feel of the type of song the late Gram Parsons would have cut in a heartbeat. It’s also as catchy as flypaper. It is one song from an album with nary a bad one in the bunch. Understatement and simplicity were the hallmarks of Paisley’s last release, the album “No Companion” from 2010. “Strong Feelings” draws on those same qualities featuring 10 straightforward songs devoid of production frills and clutter in the process allowing the focus to be on the songs and singing of Paisley. The underlying theme is love from the heartache and longing of “It’s Not Too Late (to Say Goodbye)” to the nostalgia undertow of “Old Times” to the strong desires expressed in album closer “Because I Love You” featuring reclusive Canadian chanteuse Mary Margaret O’Hara contributing stunning accompaniment on vocals. Paisley’s is a comfortable voice and his music and songs find that lived-in sweet spot time and again, a little bit alt country, a little bit folk, and a little bit soul. Visit

A terrific triple bill at the Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Road, Matunuck) leads off the weekend on the local front on Saturday with rock and rollers Northern Lands who will be playing its final gig as a band in the headlining spot and the fast-rising Smith & Weeden and Dan Dodd in the opening slots.

Also on Friday night, local hero Mark Cutler and the Tiny String Band hold court within the cozy barroom confines of the Greenwich Hotel (162 Main St., East Greenwich) starting at 9 p.m.

Area favorites Red Molly return to these parts on Friday night for an appearance at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River (16 Anawan St.). Westerly-based Singer/songwriter Marc Douglas Berardo is in the opening slot. Music begins at 8 p.m.

Comprised of members of bands such as Shacklehands and the late Cobra-Matics, the new trio The Red Penny draws from classic rockabilly, hillbilly, and country and western in delivering its boppin’ sound. The band appears at Nick-a-Nee’s in Providence (75 South St.) on Saturday night. Music begins at 9 p.m. and admission is free.

The mix will be traditional bluegrass and newgrass from Lizzie James & Greystone Rail when they occupy the Sunday evening acoustic music slot at the Wood River Inn (1139 Main St.) in downtown Wyoming, R.I. The spirits begin flowing at 6 p.m.

Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.


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