Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
Almost two years to the day since the pandemic forced an early stop to the “Ice Cream in Hell” album release tour, blues guitarist, singer, songwriter Tinsley Ellis was finally back in Minneapolis, this time in support of his latest release “Devil May Care”. The involuntary break in his long-established routine of relentless touring ended up leaving Ellis with an open block of time he capitalized on by digging deeper than normal into his songwriting process. Now back on the Dakota stage this evening of March 14th, he appeared genuinely excited to be in front of a room full of enthusiastic Minnesota listeners to present the new material.
As fans were making their way into the performance area, the experience was already taking shape with the 4 most recognizable guitars Ellis plays lined up on stage and acting as a primer for what was about to take place. The performance itself consisted of 4 identifiable sections, directly tied to each of the guitars and the importance they played in producing the correct sound for the chosen songs in that section.
As expected, Ellis first grabbed his 1967 Gibson ES-345 to kick things off with the lead in song from the new album, and it was virtually impossible to sit still as he quickly found his groove. The trio’s output (including Andrew White / bass and Eric Kazinsky / drums) was tight and came across as a rich sound you’d expect would require several more players to accomplish. After cranking out a couple upbeat tracks, the slower pace of “A Quitter Never Wins” drew the audience in even further, especially during the guitar solo where Ellis’ exaggerated vibrato achieved a smoldering effect that perfectly suited the tune. Despite having plenty of his own material, Ellis enlisted some rarely chosen cover tunes such as “Cut You A-Loose” (Ricky Allen), which lent themselves well to his style and the mood he was going for.
Breaking out a shiny 1932 National Resonator meant the Delta blues was about to be channeled for what ended up being my favorite section of the show. Ellis shared a story about his involvement in the “Blues at the Crossroads Tour”, which was all about the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, after which he played a song from each. The 1959 Fender Stratocaster triggered a shift back to another electrified section geared with the intent on a strong conclusion to the main set with a few more tracks from the new album. Ellis cleverly saved his most unique guitar for last. The 1980’s Gibson Moderne was a perfect choice for the encore giving Ellis another opportunity to show off his tasty slide work on a 3 song ode to the sound of Mississippi blues.
One Less Reason
To the Devil for a Dime
A Quitter Never Wins
The Next Miss Wrong
Cut You A-Loose (Ricky Allen cover)
Double Eye Whammy (Freddy King cover)
I Can’t Be Satisfied (Muddy Waters cover)
Little Red Rooster (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
Slow Train to Hell
Coming Home (Elmore James cover)
It Hurts Me Too (Elmore James cover)