Atlanta-born guitarist Tinsley Ellis begins his third stint on Alligator Records with a blistering bluesrock disc. The hard-touring Ellis debuted album #19 for us at the Cadillac Lounge on Jan. 29, I hope you were there. This was one of the very few touring acts to come through here, if you want more, you should show the clubs that it’s worth their while. Winning Hand has nine originals and one cover and most certainly honours his pledge that this album is all about ‘guitar, guitar, guitar’. He opens with “(How Can You Stand) Sound Of A Broken Man”, a fiery mid-tempo lament about a mistreating woman. The guitar work is as good as that song title. The slow blues “Gamblin’ Man” is treat, Ellis betting she’ll be back someday. Kevin McKendree’s electric piano provides sterling support, later adding organ to accompany Ellis’ stunning guitar solo. The quote from Otis Rush was much appreciated. Ellis can come up with attractive melodies too, as “Nothin But Fine” and”I Got Mine” show. “Autumn Run” is an ambitious ballad, with a vocal that’s occasionally outside of his comfort zone. “Satisfied” is a blast of rock n’ roll, a little bit of social commentary but he doesn’t let any of these problems bother him too much. “Don’t Turn Off The Light” is another attractive slow blues, about keeping our love. McKendree’s string synth adds enormously. Leon Russell wrote and produced quite a few songs for Freddy King for his Shelter Records label. The hit “Dixie Lullaby” was not one of them. Ellis corrects that oversight here – wonderful stuff. The set concludes with an even slower blues, “Saving Grace”, described in the press release as ‘Hendrix meets Trower’ but the lyric, about how their love will overcome their differences, is all Ellis. Apart from McKendree, there are no guests and Steve Mackey & Lynn Williams provide sterling support on bass & drums. As I write this, Tinsley Ellis’ Winning Hand is #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart, the cream rises to the top.

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