This week, we bring back an old friend of the show, Fort Worth-based trickster singer/multi-instrumentalist Robert Ellis. We last spoke in 2018 while we were were both criss-crossing the Netherlands. Then he was in full character as the Texas Piano Man, jumping across the stage between keyboards and guitars with cheeky ear worms like “Topo Chico” and searing Harry Nilsson-esque ballads like “Fucking Crazy,” whipping appreciative crowds into a frenzy. After a long pandemic hiatus, he’s back without his lion tamer white tux, stripping things way back to bring us an achingly intimate trance-lullaby of a new record called Yesterday’s News.
With no jaunty piano to speak of, the new LP uses his tender nylon string guitar and voice as the main storytellers (with upright bass and assorted hand percussion lifting up the songs saturated in delicious tape hiss), diving into the delirium and beauty of being a dad, a husband and an artist who maybe has finally let go of his ravenous ambitions to find a sort of uneasy peace.
As a fellow sleep-deprived songwriter dad myself, the quiet rage and bleary-eyed hope in “Close Your Eyes,” about the long nights spent with a newborn, hit very close to home. Ditto the opener “Gene,” which could be seen as both a moonlit conversation with his young son, but also a fantasy talk with his younger self who maybe didn’t have enough encouragement to just be his oddball self and live his truth. How does he put himself to sleep these days, you ask? He listens to old X-Files episodes… in audio form.
While many things have changed since our first episode with Robert (he now owns and runs a bar-music-venue-studio and is touring much less) his mischievous streak remains (you’ll hear his cackle of laugh pop the mic many times) making us wonder if the lovely title track to Yesterday’s News is both a clear signal of defeat (the relentless capitalist album cycle push is so last century!) and a quiet reminder that Ellis still has so many sharp stories to tell. And this time, you’ll have to lean in close to hear them.
He will be making some appearances at listening rooms and jazz clubs this summer, and I for one am really looking forward to seeing and hearing this new side of Robert’s shapeshifting songwriting in person.
Photo credit: Erica Silverman