Robert Ellis has named his new album after himself and the reason is clear. The album is both his most personal statement yet and a summation of his career thus far. Robert Ellis opens with “Perfect Strangers,” a meditation on what brings people together (and how tenuous that connection can be), and ends with “It's Not OK,” a raw look at emotional compromise. Between those two powerful bookends are nine other songs that set Ellis's soaring vocals and knowing melodies against his sharp, dark observations, and that show him in full command of a vibrant set of songwriting skills—irony, distance, character, narrative, a thoughtful relationship between sound and sense.
Ellis was born and raised in Lake Jackson, a town about an hour from Houston whose other famous residents have included the Pauls (Ron and Rand) and Selena (the original Queen of Tejano, not the current pop sensation). From an early age, he escaped small-town boredom through music. At first, his tastes ran toward traditional hits. “I remember having a bunch of pop records when I was really young: No Doubt and Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks. That was when I was pretty passive as a listener—I liked them, but maybe I got to them because my mom or one of my sisters had them. The first I really got obsessed with was a Doc Watson collection. I was already starting to play guitar, and my uncle told my mom to get it for me. He was my first guitar hero.”
As he developed as a writer, though, he found himself drawn toward the smartest and sharpest of the class of songwriters who developed in the 1970s: artists like Paul Simon, John Prine, and Randy Newman. And he didn’t just listen to them. He learned from them. Specifically, he learned the finer points of songcraft. “I've been a big fan of Paul Simon for a long time,” he says. “He has this capacity to surprise you with his music and his lyrics. With John Prine's songs, I grew from believing that they happened to him to understanding that it didn’t matter if they really happened to him. And Randy Newman? Wow. I especially love a record like Trouble in Paradise, when there are all these artificial 1980s production techniques, but they’re being used in the service of this master composer.”
released June 3, 2016
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