by Chris Familton
Finding artists that can straddle the worlds of folk and country music while still harnessing the pure and honest elements of those genres can often be a hard thing. Contemporary songwriters like Justin Townes Earle, Ryan Adams and Will Oldham come to mind and now, with his debut album Photographs, you can add Robert Ellis to that category.
Ellis’ songs are populated with childhood memories, romantic laments and yearnings for places and times past. The two key elements that translate his songs so effectively are his voice and his guitar playing. The latter is measured, precise and possesses a lilting quality in the folk tradition. He often fingerpicks chords and melodies which create an intimate mood, particularly on the sparse Bamboo and the jaunty skip of Two Cans of Paint. Ellis’ voice is shown to be a versatile instrument also. It incorporates a number of different styles ranging from smooth James Taylor tones to Ryan Adams’ americana angst and that nasally, high pitched country twang of Willie Nelson. The highlight of Photographs comes at its mid point with Westbound Train, a muse on the vagaries of emotional and geographic life decisions and a song that best showcases Ellis‘ skill at weaving effortless melodies.
Photographs is an album of two halves – the first is largely acoustic, the terrain of the balladeer while the second half finds Ellis honouring some of the classic pillars of country music from honky tonk to bar-room soul where the mood noticeably lightens, flashes of humour are injected and an appreciation of Ellis’ songwriting range becomes more apparent. To sound this fully formed and confident so early in one’s career is a special thing making Ellis a real americana talent to keep tabs on.
this review was first published in The Drum Media and on themusic.com.au