The powerhouse smoky rasp of Tawny Ellis is one you won’t soon forget. On her four-track EP Ghosts of the Low Country, the Savannah, Georgia-bred Ellis was inspired by the documentary Muscle Shoals, which chronicled the notorious FAME Studios in Alabama, where she also recorded. Working with her husband and collaborator Gio Loria, as well as noted FAME producer Rick Hall, Ellis taps into the soulful spirit of this beloved place, capturing the magic of the area and all the incredible music that’s come out of it.
Ellis smoothly transitions between a full-bodied belting out delivery and a quieter, softer sound, playing to her strengths in all the right places and showing off her spectacular range. With two originals and two covers, it may not seem like there’s much to explore on Ghosts, but don’t judge too quickly in this case. Ellis brings a low sexiness to Patsy Cline’s classic “Walkin’ after Midnight,” taking it down from the epic country-western heights of Cline’s iconic performance and giving it a darker tint. It’s not the standout on Ghosts, but it is a worthy take and the steel guitar, played by Ellis herself, glows.
Where Ellis really shines is on the title track, a richly historic tour-de-force vocal performance and impressive feat of songwriting. The song tells the story of the “Singing River” in Tennessee, to where Native American Teh-La-Nay epically journeyed back, after being forced from her tribe to a reservation in Oklahoma as part of the Indian Removal Act. It’s a famous tale that’s given new life thanks to Ellis’ impassioned and spiritual song.
With the addition of Athens band Five Eight guitarist Sean Dunn and drummer Patrick Ferguson, Ellis takes on one of their originals “Desperate Tonight,” a subtly beautiful country song that exhibits her exceptional ability to control her voice and convey deep heartache as the tragic song suggests. As a side project for all involved, Ghosts is a little gem that should not fly under the radar.
Tawny Ellis has always delivered her music with a soulful edge, but her latest EP, recorded at Muscle Shoals’ FAME studio, takes things up a notch. The title track’s studied tempo, full stops, lap steel and Hammond B3 push Ellis into a vocal space she hasn’t really visited before, with long, full-throated notes shot through with thought and emotion. You can tell the band – the Five Eight’s Sean Dunn and Patrick Ferguson, bassist Peter Hamilton, and Ellis’ regular collaborator Gio Loria – were feeling the space in which they were recording. Ellis sings “Evolve or Die” more fervently than the 2008 original, prodded by Ferguson’s drumming and Loria’s deep bass pedals. The set closes with a cover of “Walking After Midnight” whose understated vocal feels particularly distraught. It’s a nice finish to a project that’s brought out new dimensions of Ellis and Loria’s talents. [©2015 Hyperbolium]
Tawny Ellis has always delivered her music with a soulful edge, but her latest EP, recorded at Muscle Shoals’ FAME studio, takes things up a notch. The title track’s studied tempo, full stops, lap steel and Hammond B3 push Ellis into a vocal space she hasn’t really visited before, with long, full-throated notes shot through with thought and emotion. You can tell the band - the Five Eight’s Sean Dunn and Patrick Ferguson, bassist Peter Hamilton, and Ellis’ regular collaborator Gio Loria - were feeling the space in which they were recording. Ellis sings “Evolve or Die” more fervently than the 2008 original, prodded by Ferguson’s drumming and Loria’s deep bass pedals. The set closes with a cover of “Walking After Midnight” whose understated vocal feels particularly distraught. It’s a nice finish to a project that’s brought out new dimensions of Ellis and Loria’s talents.
THE DOG'S SPACE
From throaty to wistful, Ellis is in control of her voice and able to pull on her Southern roots at will. Guitar Magazine described her voice as “…the sort of voice one could make a meal of, in the vein of Neko Case or Ray LaMontagne — not to mention country singers from years, if not ages, past.” The record contains 2 original songs and 2 covers. The title track renders the story of Teh-La-Nay, a Native American of the Yuchi tribe forced from her home to a reservation in Oklahoma and her near decade travel back to her Tennessee River, the “Singing River” located in Muscle Shoals neighboring town of Florence. “Desperate Tonight” is a Five Eight original that brings the band’s own sound together with Ellis and Loria. Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” is an homage to the artist she is often compared to. “Evolve or Die” is an older track that was chosen by Ellis a song that deserved the particulars, rarities and royalties of a Fame studio recording.
Besides the songwriting and vocals, Ellis contributes lap steel guitar to the record. She picked it up 4 years ago after watching longtime neighbor and friend Daniel Lanois play. “Watching him has taught me a lot,” she said, “He is he best so I spy on his moves. I have a long way to go but I am dedicated to this blend of the lap steel and my voice together.” She talks about meeting him in 2008, “We talked about the CD I had just released and his belief that songwriters should write classic songs and not to worry about genre, to be a timeless artist. Since then he has subtly guided me with his philosophies and inspired me with his work ethic. His heartbeat is music and everyday his life is a testament to his commitment.” The multi-talented Gio Loria is also a musical inspiration to her. “He believes in me so much and he encourages me to write more and play more. We’ve been playing together since the day we met.”
Ellis’ talent doesn’t end with music. She’s an accomplished sculptor with an ancestral connection to one of the world’s most famous sculptors/painters, Edgar Degas. Working in bronze, wire and cement, she’s had gallery showings in Los Angeles, New Orleans and France and her work can be found all over the world. Lanois happens to also be a fan of her artwork and has recently commissioned a hand sculpted fret board.
“I was sculpting at a very young age,” she explains, “I feel like it is my natural state to be creating things otherwise I am no good.” She claims that being a sculptor has helped her to see music in textures. “I create to live and performing is my most natural state. I need that communication with people, it’s a language that makes me feel alive and excited to be here. It’s so mystical — the language of music and art. I can’t get over how it takes down boundaries we have as people trying to communicate with one another. It gives great understanding where there would be none. Music is the great healer.”
Red Dirt Report
Four songs recorded during sessions in 2014 at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama by noted artist and Southern musician Tawny Ellis reveals a powerful and distinctive voice who at times brings to mind roots-folk songwriters like Neko Case and Emmylou Harris.
You hear it write away on this Ghosts of the Low Country EP with the opening title track, where Ellis, a native of Savannah, Ga., plays lap steel (she learned watching neighbor Daniel Lanois play!), backed by members of the Athens, Ga.-based group Five Eight (guitarist Sean Dunn and drummer Patrick Ferguson), the same group behind the second track, “Evolve or Die.”
Also helping Ellis here are friend and guitarist/songwriter Gio Loria (who helped co-produced the EP) and bassist Peter Hamilton.
There is a subtle power to “Desperate Tonight” that allows the listener to really hear Ellis annunciate every word in the song. Gio Loria’s dobro work is outstanding.
Ellis and her top-notch studio group – surrounded by the deep n’ rootsy musical history of Muscle Shoals – close out this all-too-short record (only a little over 17 minutes in length) with a cover of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.”
For more information and more on her back catalogue, go to www.tawnyellis.com.
Savannah, Georgia native, singer-songwriter Tawny Ellis through a chance meeting with producer and founder of Muscle Shoals' Fame Studios, Rick Hall she got to live out her dream, and record at Alabama's prestigious location. Story goes Ellis and her husband, and longtime collaborator Gio Loria after being inspired with the documentary 'Muscle Shoals' looked in while on tour, and by chance met RH and were invited back 10 days later to record on completion of the tour. In this time Ellis and Loria busied themselves both writing and working up other songs. Joined by Patrick Ferguson (drums) and Sean Dunn (electric guitar) from the Georgia band Five Eight they add to Ellis' lap steel, plus the latter's electric guitar, bass pedals, Hammond B-3 and Dobro (“Desperate Night”).
The 4-track EP has a wonderful, full-blown buoyancy to it. With time precious they only had limited hours to arrange the song, but with this comes an on the edge feel few acts could buy. Ellis' creative talent stretches outside music too. For she is a sculptor, working in bronze, wire and cement her work has been shown in art galleries in Los Angeles, New Orleans and France. On listening to the opening three tracks I felt a feel of dynamic adventure, and mystical too on title-track “Ghosts Of The Low Country”, this as she speaks of the hardship and wrong doing to Native American, Teh-La-Nay of the Yuchi tribe, and her near decade long journey from an Indian Reservation in Oklahoma back to the 'singing river' (Tennessee River). Her impassioned vocals coupled with Steel, B-3 and gull-bodied rhythm section turn an already powerful song into a killer.
A neighbour and friend of Daniel Lanois, Ellis follows the opening track with an equally impressive “Evolve Or Die”, and with the musician, producer in mind I feel the production and contains a quality you would attain to him. It is that good, solid and direct her music grabs hold of the attention of the listener instantly. My heart jumped a beat on hearing the strains of lap steel announce the opening to Patsy Cline favourite “Walkin' After Midnight”, and though her vocals don't challenge Cline or offer anything dramatically different it's a nice touch and it gave her another opportunity to demonstrate her elegant instrumental prowess. I can't wait to hear more from Ellis!
Tawny Ellis is an accomplished singer/songwriter with a voice of an angel and lyrics of a broken-hearted savoir. This may be 2015, but Ellis’ voice and music takes you as far back as the Carter Family but bleeds with the modern touches of Alison Krauss.
On her latest offering, the 4-track EP ‘Ghosts Of The Low Country: The Muscle Shoals Sessions’ it is clear that Ellis is blessed with some serious pipes which could melt your heart or fill it with hope, depending on her mood. She is also a fantastic songwriter. Penning love-inducing ballads and haunting heartbreaks, Ellis sings like she has lived a long frutful life full of struggles and accomplishments. But truth be told, Ellis is young and wise beyond her years.
The Georgia-born singer opens this EP with the slow amble of “Ghosts Of The Low Country,” written by Ellis and her husband Gio Loria, who plays dobro on the track. Following is another Ellis original, “Evolve Or Die” which has a backwoods Civil War feel with its folk instrumentation. On this EP, Ellis is back by the Georgia band Five Eight, and covers their song “Desperate Tonight” written by Mike Mantione. It’s a slow waltz as the singer is trying to find herself in her own hometown. Then the CD ends with a gorgeous cover of the Patsy Cline classic “Walkin’ After Midnight.”
It’s been two years since Ellis has released her last album – 2013’s ‘Blow By Blow,’ and ‘Ghost of the Low Country’ might be a stop gap in between full lengths, but it is certainly full of beautiful music until the next long player comes.
MTM.com ~ Middle Tennessee MusicA
native of Savannah, GA and now living in Los Angeles, Tawny Ellis traveled back to the South to record her newest EP, Ghosts of the Low Country. Recorded at the renowned FAME Studios and produced by Rick Hall, The sounds on Ghosts of the Low Country are as soulful as the region and bring to life the aspects of music and song indicative not only of Tawny Ellis and Gio Loria, but of the very landscape of Muscle Shoals.
From throaty to wistful, Ellis is in control of her voice and able to pull on her Southern roots at will. Guitar Magazine described her voice as “…the sort of voice one could make a meal of, in the vein of Neko Case or Ray LaMontagne—not to mention country singers from years, if not ages, past.” Besides the songwriting and vocals, Ellis contributes lap steel guitar to the record. She picked it up 4 years ago after watching longtime neighbor and friend Daniel Lanois play. Accompanying Ellis is Gio Loria on guitar, guitar player Sean Dunn and drummer Patrick Ferguson from the Athens band, Five Eight, and Peter Hamilton on bass.
Ghosts of the Low Country is her 6th recording and 2nd EP. It contains 2 original songs and 2 covers, and will release on November 6th, 2015.
ISO RADIO -FRANCE
very very good music and this time it sounds exceptional...what a discovery to me...I am really enthusiastic...These four songs are pure beauty ...everything sound so perfect..the vocals, the sound, the musicians, the songs ...it also show that only four exceptionnal recordings on a EP can let a better feeling than 10 on a LP with 4 or 5 average on it, just to make the right number ...
Tawny made the right artistic , musical choices...she has got a high sense of good taste; she is a pure talent ...we really need artists like her
Merci from the deep of the heart for this musical gem...I will obviously air the 4 songs and will send you my playlist at the end of September
Tawny made my day with just 4 songs !!!
Ghosts Of The Low Country' is one of those 'pleasant accident' recordings. On tour and heading by the renowned Fame studios inspired by the Muscle Shoals documentary, Tawny Ellis and husband/collaborator Gio Loria, a chance meeting with Rick Hall led to an invitation to do some recording. A case of finish the tour, write the songs, pick up musicians on the way - very rock and roll in approach but very country in execution. Indeed, the word kismet has been justifiably bandied about.
The four songs have an intense yet downright easy country feel. Tawny herself is co-writer on two songs, the title track sticking safely with all the elements of with reedy Hammond organ and pedal steel to the fore and a relaxed and tranquil vibe - a song which she feels is even one of the best she's written despite the challenging nature of its conception. Of the two cover tracks, it's tempting to roll out the old chestnut of 'Desperate Tonight' being so laid back it's almost horizontal, while 'Walkin' After Midnight' tends towards a more bluesy feel with a slow shuffle nudging the song along.
For a project which was not quite thrown together but one which made the most of an opportunity not to be missed, there's a quality about the songs which speaks volumes for doing something on the spur of the moment, although being country… on the hoof seems more apt.
SOUND AND VISION -UK
Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
What goes on tour stays on tour; unless of course it’s worth sharing with everybody you know and is so important that the words won’t keep still, they merge into something that demands to be heard properly before the tour is over. Such is the genesis of the creative beginnings of Tawny Ellis’ Ghosts of the Low Country E.P., such is the mark of respect due to the four beautiful and soulful songs, that they each in their own way offer a piece of the American psyche and introspection that used to be synonymous with the road and the effects on the productive and artistic mind.
The four songs, two original and two inspired covers, sit within time happily and with the sense of pride associated with wanting to acknowledge a special bond with the area that you most associate with, but also one that keeps you grounded enough to understand why that bond is one that must never be broken. It is a peculiar sense of fortitude and strength that Time places within certain songs; it’s one that a greater sense of responsibility to bring the very best out of them and the genesis of being born out on the open road makes it even more important to cradle that accountability, that nurturing aspect, with care.
The two original songs, the E.P.s title track and Evolve or Die are tracks that dig deep into the ways of the American psyche, of the twin dilemma that takes root of the nation’s birth and the death of its former self. Perhaps only Australia can truly understand the duality of its nation, but even then it never suffered the magnitude of internal warfare to which the United States sprang from and it is in the dynamic that Ghosts of the Low Country presents itself, the seeing through the eyes of perhaps a former self and the view that comes before them.
In covering Five Eight’s great tune Desperate Tonight and Alan Block’s and Don Hecht’s Walkin’ After Midnight, a song recorded by the great Patsy Cline, the rounded nature of the E.P. is given respect and full value esteem, an esteem that comes through being at one with Tawny Ellis’ thoughts and soul.
Four great songs captured in such a way that you cannot help but love them, they are the open road and the cloudless sky that resounds of an America at peace with itself.
Ian D. Hall