Blues Short Takes: Tinsley Ellis, Thorbjørn Risager, Marcus King – Review
by Imogen Speith
Tinsley Ellis, Ice Cream in Hell (Alligator, 2020)
Atlanta, Georgia, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tinsley Ellis has built a blockbuster career with his rustic vocals and steaming hot guitar prowess. His songs are relatable and get to the marrow of everyday persons struggles. His latest release which marks his seventeenth release, Ice Cream In Hell, was recorded in Nashville and produced by Ellis and his longtime co-producer Kevin McKendree (John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton). Featuring eleven passionate tunes, that is the best of what 21st century blues has to offer. Building upon the heritage of blues “Last One To Know,” kicks off the album with a Stax inspired tune that immediately finds the listener connecting the affinity Ellis has for Albert King. His slow burn and sinuous soloing embroil passion on this cut. Likewise, “Hole in My Heart,” is what is best in a blues ballad. Ellis waxes poetic and conveys the truest forms of heartbreak with every note bend and every vocal wail. Whereas “Evil Till Sunrise” swamps with a funky mid-tempo feel that will get your blue suede shows tapping. Its easy to see why Ellis has such an avid following, he serves up a nice variety of feel, flavors and certainly one of the preeminent blues guitar players.
Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado, Come On In (Ruf Records GmbH, 2020)
In truth ones mind does not immediately go to Denmark when you think about the blues genre, but Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado are at the forefront of the Danish blues explosion. Their unique brand of blues is quickly turning heads. Their music is born from relentless touring with over one thousand shows in twenty-one countries, the band certainly has road tested the songs contained within their 2020 release Come On In. The title track kicks off the album, with a hard-driving beat and Risager’s resonate and focused voice laying down each lyric with authority. “Last Train” begins with the introspective acoustic guitar and builds into a fun frontal romp. Risager is in great vocal form on this cut. In the traditional sense, “I’ll Be Gone,” features acoustic guitar and Risager’s soulful voice at the forefront. His voice drips with a gravel that rocks the cockles of your soul. Come On In is certainly a tour de force for Risager, the best advice, listen to it on repeat.
Marcus King, El Dorado (Fantasy, 2019)
Greenville South Carolinians have long been aware of blues man Markus King, thankfully the rest of the globe is quickly catching up. King is best known as the leader of the Marcus King Band, but with all ascents the transformation to a solo artist has begun. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys at his Easy Eye Studio in Nashville with veteran keyboardist Bobby Wood, drummer Gene Chrisman, and bassist Dave Roe. Kings new album El Dorado is a departure in many ways from his blistering guitar driven band releases, on El Dorado the aesthetic turns more to the stories contained within each tune. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of guitar mastery, but this time around Marcus’ voice is highlighted in an accessible crossing over way, while still maintaining is blues centric idiom. So, with all this in mind, El Dorado is not an album that falls flat for any fan of King, there is overall something for everyone, and the reigning blues vocalist nails it on every front. There is also plenty of meat and potatoes to satisfy the blues aficionado. My advice, check it out for yourself, and savory the tasty tracks throughout.