James Ellis and the Jealous Guys – Country Lion
James Ellis appears to have had a Damascene conversion in Austin, Texas. Whilst spending a month in the USA, four years ago, he was seduced by the siren sounds of honky tonk music (and the two-step dancing he saw). Returning to his native Melbourne he wrote and released his first album, It Ain’t Texas (But It Ain’t Bad) and two years on he releases Country Lion. The album title comes from a sobriquet bestowed on him by BR5-49’s Chuck Mead. Ellis has no idea where the name came from but judging by his prodigious thatch there may be a clue in his appearance.
Teaming up with Nashville’s Alex Munoz and Micah Hulscher, late of working with Margo Price and Jim Lauderdale, they produce and play various instruments throughout. This is a fine traditional country album that engages you with the quality of the eleven self penned songs and lyrics. We open with, “Sixteen Hours”, and as the pedal steel lights the way you know you’re going to be amongst friends while he tells you of his broken heart. In fact he’s a boy with the world on his shoulders judging by all break up and loneliness themed songs. Despite being a path well trodden by country artists he’s way more articulate than most. On the gently rolling “A Little Soul” he opines – “Through the day horizons pass / In the evening, clouds amass / Tis the season for a cold precipitation / And now sodden underfoot / I’ll take my heaving heart to nowhere / Fare thee well my old preoccupation” Eat your heart Luke Bryan, not a pick up or ‘cold one’ in sight.
“Take Me Back In Time” is a beautiful slow ballad with a delicious piano introduction from Micah Hulscher. Over flourishes from Steve Veale’s gentle pedal steel with the brush strokes of Daniel Brates’ drums we hear Ellis’ compelling but hard edged, slightly off kilter, vocals (Gram Parsons meets Robyn Hitchcock) with his Australian pronunciation. This track is one of the nicest things to accost my ears in 2020. With “Forever Close” we pick up the pace and a sound, and rhythm, reminiscent of the rockabilly of Dave Edmunds. It jives along with Tim Baker stepping into the spotlight to demonstrate his guitar chops. “Records In The Summer” is my favourite lockdown lament. Ellis longs for the days when he can resume the very pleasant pastime of meeting with friends and spinning some vinyl. Amen to that.
There’s a lot here that elevates this honky tonker from an also ran into a contender. Check it out, you will not be disappointed.