Robert Ellis – Yesterday’s News
2019’s Texas Piano Man presented a raucous and rambunctious Robert Ellis full of piss and vinegar, humor, and a white suit to top off the proceedings. Yesterday’s News, Ellis’ latest, out now on his own label, embraces a softer subtler side of songcraft. About the writing and recording process that led to Yesterday’s News, Ellis said, “I’ve spent my entire career trying to make records that I thought would be ‘exciting’ to other people, but the albums I’ve always been most drawn to are small and gentle and soft. The more I sat with these new songs, the more I realized that their stillness was their strength.” Sit with these songs for a while and you’ll agree with Ellis’ assessment. The power of a lyric and the poignancy of performance shine through this quiet collection.
Yesterday’s News represents more than a sonic shift for Ellis, it is the direct result of a complete shift in perspective and focus on what it means to be a successful musician. New family life at home pulled him off the road and ultimately into a new position as a studio owner and producer. At Niles City Sound studio in Fort Worth, he partnered with friend and frequent collaborator Josh Block and found a new home producing other artists and eventually crafting a new batch of songs in the early morning hours before his family awoke. The intimacy of quiet morning writing sessions shines through as Ellis is accompanied by a sole nylon string guitar and, at times, upright bass and light percussion. The result is a reflective mood – somber at times, but hopeful throughout.
“On the Run” finds Ellis pondering long quiet desolate road moments. “There are stretches of West Texas that don’t even have a name,” he begins. “We stopped and took the chance to gas up every time it came,” Ellis almost whispers adding to the sense of lonely expanse. “Keep your eyes on the horizon, back turned towards the wind, at every highway’s ending find another one begins,” he advises.
The title track plays out with the quiet confidence of a Chet Baker performance – a nuanced unrestrained longing from a nearly broken soul. Upright bass and nylon string guitar replicate the quiet cool jazz ability to pull the listener in closer with each refrain. Open tunings and intricate fingerpicking bring the songs to life without the need of large arrangements or a multitude of players filling each available space. Instead, space is left of both sonic tones and emotion to ring true.
“Close Your Eyes” continues to embrace this closeness – as if Ellis were performing for you alone. “And though it isn’t easy letting go, close your eyes, your worries wilt away, you resign yourself to fight another day,” Ellis’s reedy tenor emotes. “Open Your Eyes (Instrumental)” provides a counter point where words are unnecessary to evoke the welcoming of a new day, a new outlook, a freshness, a cleanliness and acts as a palate cleanser before the closing chapter of Yesterday’s News, “Better Tomorrow.” “What’ll I do, when I can’t do this, broken in two, balled into a fist, I just want to sleep and feel better tomorrow,” Ellis sings as he accounts for a moment we’ve all felt. Like a good sleep that leave your feeling better tomorrow, Ellis’s Yesterday’s News brings renewal.
Out on his own Nile City Records May 19th, Yesterday’s News adds another powerful chapter to Ellis’ career.
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