Robert Ellis
Photo: Erica Silverman / Missing Piece Group

Robert Ellis Looks Backward for Inspiration in ‘Yesterday’s News’

Robert Ellis’ Yesterday’s News is different from what came before. This is soft rock with a singer-songwriter edge. Just being cool can be its own reward.

Yesterday's News
Robert Ellis
Niles City Records
19 May 2023

“Everybody wants me to be who they want me to be,” Lionel Richie wistfully sang on his multimillion-selling hit, “Easy”. Who hasn’t felt like an imposter in this life, playing different roles at work and play, love and friendship, as a community member, and as an individual.

Robert Ellis says this was especially true of his career as a musician. He’s always been conscious of having to be what his record label said he should be, and different companies had various desires. His albums each have a separate identity.

Critics nicknamed the Texas native “Hillbilly Joel” because of his effusive style of country pop singing and piano playing. Like New York’s “The Entertainer”, he knows how to work a crowd and fire them up. I have enjoyed several of Ellis’s performances, and he is attentive to his audiences and gives them what they want.

Yesterday’s News is, yet again, different from what came before. This is soft rock with a singer-songwriter edge. Ellis’s tenor voice floats sophisticatedly over the music. The accompaniment is simple: a nylon string guitar, upright bass, handheld percussion (and perhaps the sounds of birds). The nine tracks are thoughtful without being cerebral. The details blur into impressionism only to seem sharp from different perspectives.

Consider the barren Lone Star landscape of “On the Run”. “Ellis observes, “There are stretches of West Texas” that don’t even have a name.” The protagonist knows that it doesn’t matter what highway one is on. All that matters is that one keeps on going. He sounds lost and found at the same time. The one place he knows is the road. “If heaven feels like standing still, I’d rather go to hell,” the singer croons quietly. No need to shout. He’s already there and already gone. As the title song implies, it’s all “yesterday’s news”.

In the press notes, Ellis says the music on Yesterday’s News is what Ellis wants to make, not the songs others wanted him to make. His intimate delivery and personal style suggest the veracity of this statement, but there can be more than one truth. Ellis contains multitudes. The songs here may be a self-portrait. However, there are many ways to see a person. The quiet, nice guy here is just one side.

As a whole, Yesterday’s News invites one to chill. “Close Your Eyes” suggests one song. “Wait” urges another. Ellis follows both of these cuts with peaceful individual instrumental interludes. Both “Close Your Eyes (Reprise)” and “Open Your Eyes” offer tranquil solo acoustic guitar strumming. The playing is calm. There are no flashy solos. The effect is one of serenity.

Ellis delivers his simple moral in the album’s final lines: “Some people make plans. Some people pray. Just get some sleep. You’ll feel better tomorrow.” He’s not trying to make headlines. Ellis wants to relax and take things leisurely. Just being cool can be its own reward. As Elvis Costello famously noted, “Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.” There’s always time in the future.

RATING 7 / 10