Music for Valentine’s Day? What with being available in yellow rose-colored vinyl, the latest album from Robert Ellis called Robert Ellis is the Texas Piano Man could sure make a sweet gift. It also offers up love songs, but such tomes can go in countless directions and being the restless type he always has been, Ellis takes full liberty on Texas Piano Man. It gets the Ear Bliss look-see this week along with the solo debut called Rattlesnake from cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek, formerly of The Lumineers. Let’s take a look.
Robert Ellis is the Texas Piano Man
New West Records
Perhaps the tipoff to just where Texas songster Robert Ellis may be headed in his artistic journey just may be the name of his song publishing company, that being Southern Liberace Publishing. It’s pretty telling of his music making as of late and especially as found on his latest longplayer called Robert Ellis is the Texas Piano Man. Positioning himself behind a grand piano for its entirety, first and foremost what is most apparent from this latest album, Ellis’s fifth in all, is that the innovative singer and songwriter appears to have finally ditched his Americana side. Go back to 2011 and his New West Records debut album called Photographs which showed Ellis to be a blossoming talent on the Americana front. Mixing twangy country and singer/songwriter-oriented fare, Ellis was all cosmic cowboy with a terrific tenor voice and a great bag of songs. His 2014 follow-up The Lights From the Chemical Plant and then 2016’s self-titled album began a gradual shift away from those Americana leanings into something more artsy and poppy from both the writing and music perspectives. With Texas Piano Man, the transformation from Americana to piano-playing pop auteur just may just be beginning. Subtle touches, with an emphasis on “subtle,” of piano popsters and jazz types from Brian Wilson to Elton John to even David Brubeck can be heard throughout the grooves of the 11 tracks encompassing Texas Piano Man. It is often grand stuff. There’s also a coyness to his songs this time out that may have you wondering how serious he is with this new look and especially with his heart songs. Perhaps he just likes to keep the listener guessing which from a creativity perspective is never a bad thing. Visit www.newwestrecords.com or www.robertellismusic.com.
Robert Ellis performs at Great Scott located at 1222 Commonwealth Avenue in Allston on March 31.
Brandishing a Broadway-sized voice, cellist/multi-instrumentalist and singer Neyla Pekarek formerly of the ultra-successful newfangled folk group The Lumineers strikes out on her own in a big time way on her solo debut called Rattlesnake. The “hey-ho” antics of her eight years as part of The Lumineers seem but a distant memory after absorbing this 13-track offering on which she demonstrates both a vocal and stylistic dexterity well beyond her prior work and seemingly as at home on the hardwood of the theatre stage as the opera house. Featuring all original songs by Pekarek herself, Rattlesnake is an album which she claims has been “rattling around my brain for many years,” hence its title. What these ears hear is that patience on her part to get it right has paid off. Describing the album as a “folk opera,” the focal point of her songs is the tale of a woman named Katherine McHale Slaughterback who reportedly killed 140 rattlesnakes in 1925 while defending her three-year-old son. Nicknamed “Rattlesnake Kate” and a trained nurse and taxidermist who married and divorced six times, Slaughterback collected rattlesnake venom for research. Pekarek’s songs revolve around Slaughterback’s life as gleaned from love letters she wrote to a Colonel Charles D. Randolph whom she never met. Produced by Matt Ward, a.k.a. M. Ward, it is both an ambitious and dramatic affair that hits more than it misses and is much to do about the vocal performance of Pekarek who wraps that limber voice of hers around a wide array of song styles. Next stop Broadway? If so, remember you heard it here first. Visit www.neylapekarek.com.
Johnny Hoy & the Bluefish bring the blues and soul party to Chan’s Restaurant (267 Main Street) in Woonsocket on Friday night for a single show beginning at 8 pm. The following evening, Diane Blue and her All-Star Friends which includes Chris Vitarello (guitarist for Bruce Katz Band), Dave Limina (Hammond B3/pianist for Ronnie Earl) and Chris Anzalone (drummer for Roomful of Blues) are in the house of eggrolls and blues, also for a single show at 8 pm.
Begun in 2009, North Carolina-based Dead Tongues is a project of the singer/songwriter, musician, and producer Ryan Gustafson. A guitarist for both Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook’s Guitarheels, the music of Dead Tongues is a mélange of folk, country, blues, and cosmic American rock. Find out for yourself on Friday night at the Columbus Theatre in Providence (270 Broadway). Molly Sarle (of Mountain Man) who plays on the latest album from Dead Tongues opens the evening.
Music for a Saturday afternoon? The Ocean Mistics play their weekly free Saturday afternoon show at The Ocean Mist in Matunuck (895 Matunuck Beach Road) for your listening and dancing pleasure starting at 3:30 pm. Later in the evening, Heart tribute band Whole Lotta Heart performs at the seaside venue starting at 9 pm. The free Sunday Funday afternoon music series at The Mist this weekend with Steve Smith & The Nakeds doing the honors with music starting at 3:30 pm.
Mike Boulay & Hope Valley Volunteers do their monthly pickin’ and grinnin’ thing for your eatin’ and drinkin’ pleasure at the Wood River Inn in Richmond (1193 Main Street) on Sunday evening starting at 6 pm. That same evening over in East Greenwich finds area favorite Martin Sexton with opening act Chris Trapper taking the stage at the Greenwich Odeum (59 Main Street) for an 7 pm show.
Need a midweek bluegrass fix? Nick-a-Nees in Providence (75 South Street) can remedy that with their weekly Bluegrass tHrOEdown happening every Wednesday. Four Bridges is in the house this week starting at 8:30 and best of all, it’s free!
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.