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by: Robert Ellis

Album Artwork

(New West Records)

New West Records just released Photographs by Houston, Texas, native Robert Ellis. The 22-year old Ellis recently revealed how Photographs originated: "I came up with the concept before I came up with any of the songs, actually. I’d written a couple of the songs, but I hadn’t written any of the ‘B Side’ stuff. I’d only written a couple of the ‘A Side’ songs.

"I had that other record out and I was kind of thinking about what to do with this record. The band had just formed, but with the last record I was really, really happy with the way I made it. Which was just me, mad scientist, with an engineer, doing everything myself. I tracked the guitar and voice parts live and then added really minimal instrumentation. Most of the music that I listen to outside of the classic country genre is really minimal stuff—minimal and to the point without many bells and whistles.

"So I wanted to still do that, but I also wanted to make a record with this band. So rather than make two records, I figured this might be the best of both worlds. The ‘A side’ stuff is definitely country, but in a different way. The ‘B side’ stuff is totally throwback country stuff, but the focus is still the songs. And that’s the common thread between both sides. They’re all songs. They’re all uniquely ours. They just have a little bit of a different treatment on them, you know?"

These ten songs are all original compositions. "Friends Like Those" begins this collection with a quiet, reflective tone that puts the listener at ease. Strength exists in the stark acoustic nature of "Bamboo". The sparse instrumentation forces the listener to hear the songwriter's honest lyrics. Ellis is definitely a storyteller, and it's easy to see why he cites his influences as Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams.

"Cemetary" sounds just like the place...quiet. Lyrics reveal zen poetry as well as the strength of Ellis' voice. "Two Cans of Paint", a playful piano & fiddle-driven number, displays the songwriter's ability to use levity. "Westbound Train" contains sonic grains of Nick Drake. "Comin' Home" stands as one of Photographs strongest tunes. The frisky pedal steel runs on this tune indicate this band could keep an audience smiling and dancing. This collection begins to twang more at this point, and the cohesive sequence really kicks in.

"What's In It For Me" sounds like a country classic. Man, George Jones could make you cry if he covered this timeless tune. Ellis penned a staple in his ongoing song catalogue with that song. "I'll Never Give Up On You" sounds like a cross between Charlie Rich, Gram Parsons and Marty Stuart.

"No Fun" stomps along like it's Friday night with sawdust on the saloon floors. Again, Ellis exercises a dark humor on this number colored with banjo, bass, drums and stellar pedal steel. This will be another essential live performance tune. The title track closes the album with a late night, alone-in-the-bar, type song that reveals the immense soul of Robert Ellis. The tunes on Photographs will linger in the memory long after they're heard...

James Calemine


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