By Ian Bremner
Robert Ellis is not only a self-titled album, it has also been self-proclaimed, the most “Robert Ellis” album Robert Ellis and his band have ever done. Perhaps that is why it is hard to ignore the fact this new record is oozing with heartbreak, introspection and realization.
When diving into a new record, sometimes it is a struggle to determine how much of its content is autobiographical and how much is role-play. Robert Ellis has always been great at blurring those lines.
The album starts with an observational song Perfect Strangers, about how everything looks better in lower lighting and how easy it is to fall in love with something without being able to see below the surface. Soon, Ellis is proclaiming his love in the longing, How I Love You, before seemingly giving up and threatening to move to California with the only unbroken part of his heart. All of this turmoil goes down in the first 3 tracks.
Where fellow songwriter, Jason Isbell referenced the “elephant in the room” in his beautiful 2013 song with a cancer-ridden friend, Ellis pays homage to the large African animal/metaphorical idiom with a regretful, jealous-heart confessional song packed with tension. Throughout the 11-song album, the listener is constantly questioning whether Ellis is addressing a past, present or future lover.
Despite some lyrical heaviness, the musical maturation is glaring. Though most would consider Robert Ellis a country album, it is so much more. With pop melodies and rootsy RnB, there was an obvious amount of time spent on the arrangements and song flow of the album that many modern day “country albums” don’t seem to prioritize as much as the SONG. There are flowing strings and slow guitar picking paired with piano and vivid storytelling throughout. Only Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes can get away with as many syllables and words per verse as Robert Ellis does, but it never seems crowded.
No one can claim to be mistake free and whether Robert Ellis is singing from his own experiences or not, he is certainly singing from his heart. A heart full of newfound wisdom, but perhaps still on the mend.
Robert Ellis playing 3 stripped-down songs from his new album for NPR Tiny Desk.
Listen to Robert Ellis via spotify