Robert Ellis is the kind of songwriter who only comes along once in a great while. With his first two albums, a promise was made. With his new record, The Lights from the Chemical Plant, that promise has been delivered and fully realized. The music, like the artist, refuses to accept the confines of a box, and burns white-hot from the inside out. But what seems even more striking about this record, this musician, even at a first glance, is that feeling of unyielding authenticity.
With every remarkable cut, with every twist and turn, Robert's life and his experience, shine through. His days growing up in a small industrial town in Texas, his move to Houston, and now as a 25-year-old man, when not on the road performing around the world, living with his wife in Nashville.
The Lights from the Chemical Plant, produced with great care and precision by Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Norah Jones), and recorded at Eric Masse's Casino studio in East Nashville for New West Records, is an album that has a way of grabbing you by the hand and pulling you in so that it can play with your soul. Alive with memories and innovation, you become absorbed in the world Robert paints with his smoky lyrics, his hypnotic voice, and his masterful work on the guitar. But then something happens. Something new. Something special. And it begins with the very song for which the album is named, "Chemical Plant." You realize that Robert's building layer upon layer of different sounds from different places and different times. A synthesis of sounds and textures that pick you up and pull you in even deeper.
R&B, bossa nova, fusion, free jazz from the rousing beat of "Good Intentions" to the floor stomping bluegrass anthem "Sing Along," you've bought your ticket and you're in for the ride. And so it goes, the floodgates standing wide open. The quiet, unexpected feel of a jazz guitar in perfect union with a steel guitar in the ballad, "Steady as the Rising Sun." And so it goes. The soulful wobble of a saxophone in "Bottle of Wine," and the dreamy pedal steel that draws you into "TV Song." These are songs about love gained, about love lost, about growing up in a place where nobody stands too tall for fear of being knocked down ("Sing Along"). These are songs about lives broken, lives healed, and moving on.
As if that weren't enough, Robert gives us his interpretation of Paul Simon's classic, "Still Crazy After All These Years," which is pure elegance, cut against the song "Only Lies" with its quiet pulse, its dusky blue lyrics, and the story of a man trying to help a friend who refuses to believe that her husband is cheating on her
Only lies can comfort you,
Only lies will see you through.
Just because a thing's convenient,
That doesn't make it true.
Only lies can comfort you.
Ellis' growth as a man and musician is clear on The Lights From The Chemical Plant. And while some may call it a musical departure from his past, The Houston Chronicle best explains: "Ellis doesn't place limitations on his music. Any perceived departure is just part of an ongoing creative journey."