On Hell or High Water, Tinsley Ellis does not trot out your usual blues warhorses. What he and his touring band do is provide a fairly good sampling of what you can expect to see or hear should you happen to catch any one of their 200 performances per year when they are almost constantly on tour. Tinsley Ellis is more of a blues-rocker, and the title track “Hell or High Water” lays that fact out undeniably.
In particular, I can imagine one of these 12 original songs providing the soundtrack for a generation raised watching the enchroachment of strip malls. All growing up in the Rust Belt with wide-laced snow-boots and overstuffed down jackets that make everyone look like the Michelin Tire Boy. Filled with boyish dreams, consumer aspirations of muscle car ownership and plans for travel to Las Vegas. All happy at the end of the workshift to temporarily lay aside the conveyer-belt job at the asthma-inhaler factory or at the metal plant that stamps out TV trays. Looking forward to an evening of feeling no pain after too many brewskis and head-bobbing boogie at the tavern that always has a five-gallon jar of pickled eggs on the old wooden long bar.
There are those times that Hell or High Water reminds me of those days in the early ’70s when heavy guitar driven rock was beginning to filter out whatever blues influence might have been left. If the listener is at all nostalgic for the “old days of blues” as symbolized by Texas booty band ZZ Top, before they lost themselves onstage in smoke bombs and subsequent Presidential Inaugurals, “Ten Year Day” will do much to fill that void. If there is a song that deserves to be picked up and placed in steady rotation for Midwest radio markets, this hot powerful guitar boogie fills the ticket and will strike a spark of life into any car radio antennae if but given the play slot.