By Kevin Porter
Veteran bluesman, Tinsley Ellis, makes his return to Alligator Records with the upcoming release of Winning Hand, co-produced by Ellis and keyboardist Kevin McKendree, to be released Friday, January 12th. If you love blues-rock, then you likely know about Tinsley Ellis. He is as consistent as they come—his albums are always good, if not great, and this one is no exception. He marks his 30th year in 2018 recording and playing under his own name, and he will celebrate not only with the release of Winning Hand, but embarking on a cross-country tour that will extend into April. If you haven’t seen him live, you owe it to yourself to do so.
The album opens up with a bang with “Sound of a Broken Man,” with a wailing guitar and strong backing from McKendree, Steve Mackey on bass, and Lynn Williams on drums. A surprise key change near the end of the song kicks it into high gear, and Ellis finishes with a flourish, a guitar solo emphasizing the wah-wah. Ellis is renowned for his use of the wah-wah, and he uses it to great effect in this song. “Nothing but Fine” keeps the energy going, with a rock shuffle and some soulful singing by Ellis.
“The Gambling Man” slows things down to a traditional Chicago-style blues song, with a soaring guitar solo near the close of the song. It’s also the source of the album title with this lyric: “If I was a gambling man, I’d bet on you to come back someday; I won’t show my winning hand until that joker goes away.”
“I Got Mine” is a funky soul-blues number, with a more languid solo from Ellis that resembles, to my ears, some of Clapton’s work post-Cream.
“Kiss This World” is a harder-edged blues-rock number, with the bass and guitar playing in unison to anchor the bottom. Ellis plays three guitars on this track, displaying a range of lightening fast solos with a light touch versus a heavier and harder-edged rock tone. And in case you’re interested, Ellis documents which guitar(s) he plays on every track of this album. “Autumn” is a softer, moodier song than the other songs on the album, with an evocative guitar solo at the end of the song.