At this point, going through the critic's exercise of again reciting Mr. Ellis' many achievements is a matter of redundancy. After all, he's been carried by major and hi-profile second-string labels for many years, now backlogs 17 releases and thousands of live gigs, and may, for all we know, have a fanbase on Tau Ceti and elsewhere, considering the fact that terrene radio waves travel forever throughout the universe (at some point, I expect the expected alien invasion will not occur through any supra-mundane desire to eat human faces but instead to plunder record shops and then get the hell out of Dodge, repairing back to saner locales in the Magellanic Cluster). Tinsley's last two, including this one, however have been on his own label, Heartfixer Music, and Tough Love evidences the quite firm act of reaching back to rock and roll basics.
Hard Work, after all, sounds straight out of Stan Webb's (Chickenshack) catalogue, and I hear definite strains of the late great Alvin Lee's more basic later TYA chugs in various places throughout the disc. A strong element in the overall sound is Lynn Williams' simple but strong and heartfelt drumming, echoing, to these ears, Mark Texeira's gigs with Duke Robillard and others, non-cluttered, muscular, emphatic. Kevin McKendree's keyboards suffuse the cuts with color and rhythmic swatches, and Steve Mackay's basswork snakes through and under the efforts of his bandmates like the pulse of rich Southern loam reaching up to nourish and invigorate. The band's at its kickin'est best in Leave Me, occurring just before the Born Under a Bad Sign-ily dark The King Must Die (I agree! Sign me up!), Ellis' vocals sounding as though emerging from the bottom of a just-emptied hipflask of moonshine.
The guy has long been recognized as indelibly a blues player, but Tough harks back to his foundation influences in the British Invasion: the Yardbirds, the Animals, Cream, Status Quo, Ten Years After, etc., all of it informed by a very strong affinity for soul, most evident in Should I Have Lied and elsewhere (throughout a lot of the album, in fact). It also, as Ellis is the producer of his own work now, shows very clearly the technical prowesses he picked up from the legendary Eddie Offord (I hate that word, 'legendary', but it surely applies here), as every note is as vivid as an etching, sculpted 3-D in a matrix. I suspect the home-job status now occupied may be the final and truest place for his work. The estimable Mr. Lee, now gone to jam with dirty angels, dug his heels into the same estate, and I suspect, as the world sinks into finalizing waves of the grim joys of lunatic capitalism (is it ever not?), that all the best art will now be found outside Establishment morasses. Listen to this CD, and then try to tell me I'm in error.
One last thing: Tinsley needs to reach for his harp more often. Good stuff.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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