Authentic tales of life’s anxieties set to acoustic guitar picking.
‘Yesterday’s News’ is an intriguing album written by Robert Ellis using the freedom he had after leaving his record label and management company after over 10 years, with five varied solo albums to his name. Having a young family, he had got disillusioned with the touring life, with chasing success and with the music industry in general.
The stripped-down songs on the album, with Ellis’ half-sung, half-spoken and sometimes almost whispered vocals accompanied by the picking of an acoustic guitar and by an upright bass are very different from his previous record ‘Texas Piano Man’. That lively album, with piano and a band, reminds you of Elton John and the musical difference between the two is startling. Lyrically, where ‘Texas Piano Man’ is bullish, with songs complaining about nobody smoking anymore and passive-aggressive behaviour for example, ‘Yesterday’s News’ is downbeat and deals with life’s troubles and anxieties.
The difference seems to come because Ellis is now making the music that he wants to; he says that he is drawn to music that is “small, gentle and soft”. He has the security of being a partner in the Niles City Sound Studio in Fort Worth and has produced albums for artists such as Jamestown Revival and Zach Williams of the Lone Bellow, scored the true-crime podcast Devil Town, and crafted string arrangements for Leon Bridges.
The title track tells of the despair of an over-the-hill artist: “My best days are gone/I feel empty and used/I’ve got nothing left to lose/ Yesterday’s news” and this sadness permeates the album although Ellis himself says “Even at its saddest, I think this is ultimately an optimistic record. There’s a sense of catharsis in every song”. There is a jazz feel to the chords used here as there are in ‘Close Your Eyes’, a low-key lullaby apparently to his young son, although it could easily be addressed to an adult: “Close your eyes/Your worries wilt away/You resign yourself to fight another day”
Elsewhere, on the single ‘Gene’ Ellis confesses some fears to his son and admits to sometimes not knowing the answers to life’s questions. ‘On The Run’ is very reminiscent musically and lyrically of Townes Van Zant with its tales of travelling through dusty Texas with “the scorching smell of summer vapor rising from the road….Running from the sinking feeling that this never ends/ From anything that’s preordained or feels like giving in”
The final track ‘Better Tomorrow’ starts with the writer in depression: “Today I feel so fragile, like my bones could just break/ One thread to unravel is all it would take/ What’ll I do when I can’t do this?/ Broken in two/Balled into a fist” However, it ends with the positive “You’ll feel better tomorrow”
Some of the lyrics suggest that Ellis feels that he is at the end of the road, but this is at odds with his optimistic side and he will surely produce lots more of this sort of authentic music in the future.