Houston-based singer/songwriter Robert Ellis remains true to his Texas upbringing, drawing inspiration from country, folk and bluegrass. Ellis grew a fan base after playing local shows and landing a weekly residency, nicknamed “Whiskey Wednesdays,” at Fitzgerald’s, a local venue. He self-released his debut full-length The Great Rearranger (2009), which made a fan of George Fontaine Sr., president of New West Records. Ellis signed to New West Records in early 2011, releasing the album Photographs that summer. In addition to his solo career, Ellis also plays with several other groups, including Austin-based indie rock band The Lovely Sparrows, Houston-based I Am Mesmer, singer/songwriter Chase Hamblin, Grandfather Child and his very own Robert Ellis and The Boys.
Robert Ellis sings like a gentle giant; he conveys peace and comfort and subtly diverges with conviction and strength, never overwhelming, always delicately balanced. He’s quite mellow, and his guitar plucks clean. But most of all, Ellis has heart.
He keeps his stories simple, sincere and positively pronounced. The 23-year-old Houston native has an aged resonance to his work. Ellis is rather traditional and, vocally, comes off wise beyond his years. And by no means is he a one-trick pony. Ellis released his 10-track debut Photographs, the first five songs, folk, and the second five, country. The album totes a nostalgic vibe, but Ellis lyrically brings out his inner sincerity by finding the timelessness in his stories about old friends, lovers and home. He starts off with “Friends Like Those,” a soft number about friends that come and go, but never truly leave. Ellis’s calm and serene voice carries the acoustics to the chorus, where you get your first fill of how gripping the guy can get. The way he strings his chords and vocals together mesmerize, his passion so legible in his finely shifting tone.
Photographs continues with “Bamboo,” a track that harkens like Sufjan Stevens’s hauntingly passive storytelling, but Ellis refreshes with a deep and heartfelt closure. He sings, “There ain’t nothin’ good about getting old and going gray/and losing dear friends along the way.”
This trend continues, as the pace of his album gradually picks up with each track towards the latter half of this two-part album. Ellis reels in his toe-tapping and upbeat country side with “Comin’ Home,” a fast-paced tune that showcases a stark contrast to Ellis’s mellow folk. It’s fun-filled, and the instrumentals keep that old Willie Nelson country feel alive. The most rewarding part of this honky-tonk number, along with his other country tracks, is that Ellis’s voice, although fairly consistent with his folk tracks, is absolutely versatile. Ellis’s gift lies in the fact that he can tackle both folk and country while keeping that personal sound with a bit of twang in the mix.
He may only have 23 years under his belt, but Ellis and his band are a force to be reckoned with. No holds barred, the gentle giant has a story to tell.