Arts & Culture

Robert Ellis’ Ode To “Topo Chico” and “When You’re Away” Released – “Texas Piano Man” Out On Valentine’s Day Next Week

“On Texas Piano Man, Ellis displays his mastery by blending the barrelhouse stylings of pioneering Texas musician Moon Mullican with the staccato rhythms of Elton John.  The resulting sound feels like it would be at home in both a West Texas saloon and a Long Island piano bar.” Texas Monthly 
Robert Ellis is set to return with Texas Piano Man on Valentine’s Day 2019 via New West Records. The 11-song set was co-produced by Ellis and Niles City Sound (Leon Bridges) in Fort Worth, TX and is largely comprised of songs written by Ellis, an accomplished guitarist, on grand piano. Texas Piano Man follows his critically acclaimed 2016 self-titled LP which was named an “Album of the Year” by multiple outlets including NPR MusicRolling Stone CountryAmerican Songwriter, among others. A wild and spirited album, the grandiose Texas Piano Man presentation – vocals that soar, pumping piano vamps that call to mind Leon Russell and Elton John — finds an intriguing bedfellow with lyrical and thematic content that are disarming for their sincerity.  A larger projection of Ellis’ wilder inclinations, the tone of the record can swing like moods during the course of a day. Putting down his guitar and sitting at a piano awakened something, and Ellis likens the musical experience to being behind the wheel of “a rock solid muscle car.” It’s a heavy thing, with beautiful lines.
This week, PopMatters premiered “When You’re Away,” the first single from Texas Piano Man.  Of the song, they state, “‘When You’re Away’ is a slice of classic songwriting (American and otherwise), based in the tradition of piano men such as Jackson Brown, Elton John and others, a song that is as breathtaking in its craft as its simplicity and in the emotions it evokes from the listener.”  Hear it HERE.  Today, Garden & Gun has also premiered the album closer, Ellis’ terrific ode to Texas’ favorite mineral water, “Topo Chico.”  They state, “The song’s lyrical wit (‘Set ‘em up/I’ll knock ‘em down/Then I’ll drive you home/After a few more rounds’) and shoutable chorus (‘Topo Chico and lime! Topo Chico and lime! I’ll be just fine/with Topo Chico and lime!’) accentuate Ellis’ showmanship – one can easily picture him seated at the keys, barreling through the song as a late-night crowd belts along, bottles held high.” Hear it HERE.
NPR Music previously premiered Texas Piano Man’s lead off song, “Fucking Crazy,” while Rolling Stone Countrypremiered its accompanying video. The Erica Alexandria Silverman-directed video was was shot in Marfa, TX and depicts a crazed couple’s adventures with a hostage in tow.  The song itself finds that two people’s jagged parts sometimes fit together perfectly.  NPR Music said “Dressed head to heels in a white tuxedo, Robert Ellis has now fully embraced his role as Texas troubadour, putting a little Gram Parsons-style honky-tonk into the bedazzled piano-pop of Elton John.” Rolling Stone Country said “…on his forthcoming album, Texas Piano Man, he dives deeply into a new persona: a white-suited, blue bonnet Elton John determined to challenge expectations of what it means to be a musician residing in the Lone Star State,” and “Ellis can do shit kicking honky-tonk just as well as he can inhabit an ivory-tickling Lone Star State of Mind.” Hear the song Hereand see its video HereTexas Monthly premiered the song “Passive Aggressive,”saying, “Texas Piano Man…is pure raucous fun, eleven tunes that demand to be played at full volume while dancing around the shuffleboard table at your favorite dive” and “On Texas Piano Man, Ellis displays his mastery by blending the barrelhouse stylings of pioneering Texas musician Moon Mullican with the staccato rhythms of Elton John.  The resulting sound feels like it would be at home in both a West Texas saloon and a Long Island piano bar.” Hear it HERE.  Men’s Journal also previously premiered the third track from Texas Piano Man, “Nobody Smokes Anymore.”  Of his new direction displayed on the album, the publication states “Only the truly exceptional artists, with the right mix of confidence and wit – Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Waits—dare to scrap the template that first won them acclaim and basically start over, with a new, often sideways approach to their craft. That’s exactly what Texas native Robert Ellis has done with his latest album, Texas Piano Man.”
Because Ellis and his band were fluent in honky tonk and capable of burning through dozens of George Jones standards on any given night, he could have found his boots set in concrete. He has instead over the course of five albums done his best to set wide parameters for his musical expression, befitting a guy from a state nearly 800 miles from one end to the other.  “With Texas, people expect a certain thing and they want a certain thing, and I fought that for a long time,” he says. “I’ve realized though that Texas shouldn’t be made a category. I want to redefine to the outside world what it means to be Texan a little bit.”  Ellis’ Texas contains multitudes, a space so broad and wide open that it can contain the caricatures and archetypes seen from the rather narrow view so often taken from the outside, as well as the artists, oddballs and freaks who populate its many crannies.  He knows the roadside attractions and the favored drinks and foods.  That’s how one ends up with the song “Topo Chico.”
Should the feelings on the album come across as too intimate on paper, the presentation by the Texas Piano Man sells it with feral abandon and pop majesty.  The cover artwork for the album does a good job summarizing who this guy is.  It features Ellis on top of a mountain in Marfa, TX seated at a grand piano, wearing a white tuxedo.  He describes the Texas Piano Man as the guy who wears the tuxedo everywhere.  If there’s a ribbon to be cut, he’s there. A groundbreaking? He’ll hold the shovel and deal with the dirty suit later. “It’s more about a spirit,” he says, “than an aesthetic. There’s the classic play of the piano man, and with a little fashion behind it. I want you to listen to the songs. But also to see the rings and the glitz and the glamor.”
Robert Ellis has also announced his initial tour dates in support of Texas Piano Man.  The day before the album release, Ellis will celebrate with an in-store performance at Cactus Records in Houston, TX, with an in-store performance the following evening at Waterloo Records in Austin, TX on Valentine’s Day. He is also scheduled to appear at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin from March 11th through the 17th. Ellis will then launch his Texas Piano Man headline tour in Oklahoma City, OK on March 23rd.

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News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.

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