Sturgill Simpson might be pegged as the renaissance man of modern country music but there’s a strong case for Texan Robert Ellis as the true heir to that throne. Over four albums he has progressively distanced himself from traditional country and delved deeper and deeper into a rich exploratory style of confessional songwriting. On this self-titled album he’s got the closest to corralling his own unique style.
Over intricate and at times mind-boggling guitar playing he dissects the rise and fall of a romantic relationship. There are strings and plenty of piano as he glides through Steely Dan-styled smooth jazz and soul, dark and swirling instrumentals (‘Screw’) and indie rock (‘Couples Skate’). It’s Ellis’ nasal Texan twang and drawl that binds the disparate sounds together and it all comes to a thrilling climax with the closer ‘It’s Not OK’. Its heavy, jerky piano chords give way to smooth passages and a visceral Wilco-esque guitar deconstruction. It’s the icing on the cake, leaving no doubt that Ellis’s songwriting and sense of experimentation is way ahead of the pack as he bravely exploring the corners of American music.