Comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan aside, guitarist Tinsley Ellis is considered by many to be one of the few in the mass of followers who has managed to carve out his own identity in the world of blues-rock, a genre too often overcrowded with guitarist/vocalists immensely talented, but completely unoriginal. Dipping into the Texas blues of Freddie King and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, B.B. King’s sweet-but-stinging style, and the funky soul of Memphis, Ellis—who’s a far better guitarist than vocalist—is probably one of the most polarizing players on the scene, drawing praise and criticism at every turn.
Now, 20 years into his relationship with the venerable blues label Alligator, Ellis continues to pound away at the blues with the force of a battering ram on Speak No Evil, leading his band through 12 tunes of loud, distorted, and dirty blues rock. From the filthy wah-wah work on opener “Sunlight of Love” and the thick tremolo of “Slip and Fall”, to the de-tuned bass of “The Other Side” and the frantic leads in the title track, it’s clear that Ellis is itching to see how much his amplifiers can handle.
While “It Takes What It Takes” recalls a grungier Robert Cray (if he were to play harmonized leads), and the atmospheric B-3 organ of “The Night Is Easy” is offset by more squealing guitar leads. “Left of Your Mind” kicks off the second half of the disc with crisp, polished production that cleans off the muck, grime, and grub that should have been left on and made this a nasty (the good kind) disc. Ellis’ playing is impressive and he commands a tight-knit band, but many of the tunes on Speak No Evil would best be served if they were dragged through a bit of mud—hopefully whomever is behind the controls on the next disc will make this happen.