[I]t’s amazing what moving to a new city and a haircut can do. In 2012, Robert Ellis moved from Houston to Nashville and shortly thereafter cut his Willie Nelson-length long locks. In East Nashville he recorded his third studio album The Lights From The Chemical Plant, out February 11 on New West Records, which is simply one hell of an album.
The album opens with the unassumingly charming TV Song, an ode to television. “I’m a gun fighter, I’m a bull rider. I’m a captain of some pirate ship at sea,” Ellis day dreams on the track. In a day where binge watching entire seasons of TV is the norm, it’s a song that we can all relate to. “Oh my god I love watching my TV,” he proclaims. You thought the same thing watching the series finale of Breaking Bad, right?
There’s really a bit of everything on this country album. The dark but sexy Good Intentions is the perfect upbeat track to sing along with, without ever passing into the cliche country song category. There’s no mention of pickup trucks or blue jeans. Robert Ellis 1, Popular Country Music 0. Immediately following is Steady as the Rising Sun, a track Ellis co-wrote with Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith. It’s a beautiful ballad which at times seems almost like a duet between Ellis and the gorgeous pedal steel on the track. “Honey I hope your love won’t let me down,” Ellis wishes at the tail-end of the chorus.
Definitely the most depressing track on the album is Bottle of Wine, whose opening line is, “bottle of wine, bag of cocaine…” How many times do you need to listen to this song before you’re sufficiently bummed out? Not even once: the first 20 seconds will do it. It’s an interesting change-up from the guitars and pedal steel as this is a piano-drive track, with a surprisingly soulful saxophone solo around the 3:30 mark. And though it is unbelievably depressing and tragic, it is one beautifully written song: “cheers to old times, raise a glass to the pain. I hope that you’re all right, but it seems not much has changed.”
Ellis covers Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, which is perfect with his twangy vocals. Even though this is one hell of a country album, it’s the saxophone solo on Bottle of Wine and the bossa nova flair in Pride that add a depth and complexity to it. But there’s still enough hazy pedal steel on Only Lies and quick picking on the bluegrass anthem Sing Along to make it a satisfying country listen.
You can stream the album via NPR up until its release date. And come February 11, you’ll want to grab it on vinyl or mp3 anyways. Robert Ellis is also touring extensively to promote the album, so be sure to check out the tour dates here.