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Ellis Hooks




Ellis Hooks - Uncomplicated - 2004 - Artemis


Equal parts soulful groove, bluesy mix of joy and pain, and straight-up rock 'n' roll drive make for an excitingly raw collection that nonetheless shines like a polished stone. © GENEVIEVE WILLIAMS, Blues Revue


A brilliant modern soul, blues, and R&B album that draws from influences, like Robert Cray, Sam Cooke , and a host of others. Ellis Hooks is a gifted songwriter and musician. All the songs on this album are superb, and Ellis Hooks is obviously deeply passionate about his songs. He sings and plays from the heart, and has produced a gem of an album with this recording. This album is VHR by A.O.O.F.C. Buy his "Up Your Mind" album. This guy is destined for greatness.

TRACKS

It's Gonna Take SOme Time
40 Days and 40 Nights
Can't Take This No More
Sweet Justina
Uncomplicated
The Hand of God
She Locked The Door
I Don't Want To Go Home
The Idea Of You - Duane Jarvis, Jon Tiven, Sally Tiven, Ellis Hooks
Never Give Up On Your Love
It's A Hassle
You Can't Change Me
Slide The Gun - John Hahn, Jon Tiven, Shemekia Copeland, Ellis Hooks
M'Baby
That's Not What I Need

All songs composed by Jon Tiven, Sally Tiven, Ellis Hooks, except where stated.

MUSICIANS

Ellis Hooks (Guitar (Acoustic)), (Vocals), (Vocals (Background))
Todd Snare, Omar Hakim, Billy Block, Anton Fig, Mat Reale (Drums)
Jon Tiven (Guitar),(Harmonica), (Percussion), (Sax (Alto), (Organ)
Duane Jarvis (Guitar (Electric)
Sally Tiven (Guitar (Bass))
Mark Sorrells (Piano)
Essra Mohawk (Harmony Vocals)

REVIEWS

There are a lot of things you can say about Ellis Hooks' new album, Uncomplicated. You can say Hooks shows a love for his forebears in blues, rock, R&B and even country. You can say it has a remarkable groove or that it is one of the best and most honest blues records to be released. Yet, that does not do justice to this remarkable record. The album, recorded in Nashville, mixes in equal parts of Van Morrison, Robert Cray, the mid-1960s Memphis sound of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and a heaping dose of roots rock and even a bit of Traffic, offering a record that somehow both connects with the past while pointing ahead to the future. Hooks calls his musical style Americana soul, a surprisingly apt label that manages to allude to all the various bits and pieces that comprise his sound without privileging any particular influence. With his luscious baritone and stylish guitar lines, Hooks reminds us with his passion and intensity what blues and folk and rock and country have in common and that they do not have to be trivialized into various sub-genres and packed away for easy reference. Something in his playing and delivery remind me of Robert Cray. But where Cray can seem a little too perfect, almost too conscious of his role in continuing the urban blues tradition, Hooks connects with that tradition almost organically, without placing it in on a glass shelf. Cray's is a remarkable guitarist and expressive vocalist and his records are among the best of contemporary blues, but they can sometimes seem sterile, almost deliberate. Hooks is far from that. The blues, as a musical form, he seems to be saying with each note, is not static, is not something to be admired or studied. It is to be lived and breathed and savored (listen to the guitar solos on the title cut and "Can't Take This No More" or the slinky vocal on "Slide the Gun"). Uncomplicated is not reverent, does not live in the past, but uses the existing, long-used forms to underscore an emotional connection to the world. These songs are vital and real. They are not curios or musical collectibles. This is the blues as the blues must be played in 2004. This means bringing bits and pieces of rock, folk, and country into his sound, reversing the standard route of white rockers borrowing from (some would say, appropriating) Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and Howling Wolf. From song to song, the influences change. The opening cut, "It's Gonna Take Some Time", channels Van Morrison with an easy "And It Stoned Me" feel to the vocal, while the single, "40 Days and 40 Nights", brings together Morrison, Otis Redding, and a bit of the Band. Little Richard's ghost haunts "Can't Take This No More" while the Band casts its shadow over "I Don't Want to Go Home" and the underlying organ line on "The Idea of You" echoes the best work of Steve Winwood with Traffic. "Sweet Justina" features a stew of influences, everything from mid-'60s white soul groups like the Young Rascals to Redding again, with a little Bob Dylan-flavored harmonica tossed in for good measure. Much of the territory traveled on the disc is familiar terrain: Love and loss, the ups and downs of relationships, etc. While there is no new ground broken, it never sounds clichéd or maudlin. The reason, I think, is that Hooks's delivery never sounds forced and he is engaged in and committed to each word he sings. This is most evident on the disc's best song, "The Hand of God", a blues rave-up with a gospel lyric, a song that drives home its spiritual devotion with a torrid guitar and syncopated beat. It's "God meets the devil's music" with God winning by a knock out. "The hand of God / Is right on my shoulder / I asked my ma / She said Jesus told her", he sings in the refrain, the wicked edge of his guitar running as counterpoint, pushing the song, impelling it forward, the dark hues of the guitar highlighting the singer's devotion, emphasizing it, making it that much more real. This emotional realism is what makes Hooks more than a sum of his influences. And it's what makes him one of the most exciting new blues voices singing today. © Hank Kalet, 19 April 2004 © 1999-2008 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved


Though Ellis Hooks had developed a global reputation for his Zane Records debut, Undeniable, his Evidence title, Up Your Mind, is what put his name on the lips of most American blues and soul fans and earned him a W.C. Handy nomination. Hooks is a young Alabama-born singer and songwriter who communicates, in a thoroughly modern manner, not only the great passion and mystery of soul and gospel music's related heritage, but the virtuosity of its musicianship as well. There's nothing nostalgic about Hooks' approach; his sound is classic, not retro. With Uncomplicated (titled Hand of God in Europe), his third offering, Hooks goes over the top and offers audiences an R&B record for the ages. Produced by Jon Tiven (Wilson Pickett, Don Covay), who also plays lead guitar, organ, and alto saxophone on the date and co-wrote with Hooks, Uncomplicated also boasts the talent of bassist Sally Tiven (also a co-author) as well as a host of drummers who include Billy Block, Anton Fig, Matt Reale, Omar Hakim, and Todd Snare. Vocalist Essra Mohawk and guitarist Duane Jarvis also lend a hand. The sound put forth by Hooks and Tiven is raw, immediate, and greasy; it's thoroughly organic. Its aesthetic is drenched in Southern funk and grit and gospel fervor; it contains no traces of the slick, sheeny neo-soul tropes that have all but ruined the genre. From the opening moments, the strummed acoustic guitars and languid harmonica that usher in "It's Gonna Take Some Time," Hooks comes out of the box as a pillar of strength: "I don't know what you've been through/And I don't know the pain that hurt you/But I do know that my feelings are sincere and I'll take away your fear/And give you back your heart." It's not a line; it's a promise buoyed by a rock-steady rhythm section and strummed guitars. Hooks is instantly believable because there is no hard sell in the grain of his voice, just the emphatic truth in his conviction as the words come from the fire in his belly. On "40 Days and 40 Nights," the spirits of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding come from the mountains of heaven to lend their spiritual inspiration to Hooks in his tough, straight-up delivery of a man on the ropes from a busted love. Tiven's spare leads filling up the middle that is full of a strutting bassline, popping snares, an organ, and layers of acoustic guitars. Hooks is a man in the desert, and Tiven's licks underscore every line, offering a portrait of the margins of love that ends badly. The rock & roll funkiness at the heart of the title track sounds like Hooks in his dirtiest groove is fronting the Faces or the vintage Rolling Stones. This gives way to the gutbucket funk & roll of "The Hand of God," a steamrolling rocker whose lyric is poignant and a prophecy in the process of being fulfilled. "She Locked the Door" evokes the vulnerability and determination of Don Covay, but the voice is all Hooks. His singing splits open a lyric and wrenches every shred of meaning and emotion from it; his phrasing may come from Memphis, and his honesty may come from the Southern Church, but the truth in his delivery comes from his own heart. Hooks is confident enough in his gifts that he doesn't have to oversing or overemote; it is all natural and free. It comes easily to the listener without detour or distraction because it is delivered by a singer whose voice reveals the hard-won price he has already paid for the experience contained in his words. By the time you reach the later tunes on the album, like the strolling funked-up blues of "It's a Hassle," the shimmying groove in "You Can't Change Me," the sultry blues strut of "Slide the Gun," and strident gospelized soul in "That's Not What I Need," the point is made: Hooks is the new reigning king of R&B. The listener leaves the experience awed, exhausted (not only from its emotional intensity, but from dancing about the living room as well), and convinced that Uncomplicated is simply the best recording from the genre in 20 years; it sets a new watermark for any record that claims "soul music" as its heritage. © Thom Jurek, All Music Guide




BIO

Until the arrival of Ellis Hooks on the 21st century blues and soul scenes with his now-signature meld of R&B, blues and Southern gospel, it seemed that the great stories surrounding these musics had already been told and passed into antiquity with the great names assigned to them -- Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, James Carr, and Sam Cooke, to name a few. Not so. Ellis Hooks was born in Bayminette, Alabama, between Birmingham and Montgomery. He is the 13th of 16 children born to sharecroppers. According to legend, he didn't own a pair of shoes until he was eight. Hooks began his singing career as a child leading the church choir, but fell under the sway of the soul, blues, and country music his older brothers listened to on the radio. The voices of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Little Milton were sheer enchantment for the youth. At the age of 15, Hooks decided to seek his fortune as a singer and left home. He hitchhiked across the United States, working odd jobs, and playing and singing for anyone who would listen on street corners, and eventually landed in New York. In the city he slept where he could, played the occasional club gig on Bleeker Street, and spent many days singing in Central Park. In the storied way Hooks' life has unfolded, Diana Ross heard him in Central Park and, taken with his unique vocal style which blends the soul croon and blues growl, offered him a recording session at the famed Power Station studio. Hooks balked and never showed up, later claiming that he wasn't ready and his songs weren't developed enough. Hooks wasted no time in making his next career move. He earned enough for a one-way trip to Europe and spent time living in Paris, Amsterdam, and in Milan, where he played tube stops and street corners. It's a time he looks back on fondly: "European audiences receive you; they're open and they treat you like family. In the United States you have to fight for every audience member," he told this journalist in an interview. Hooks returned to New York in 1995 where lightning struck for the second time upon meeting producer Jon Tiven. Hooks accompanied a young singer as a chaperone to an audition at Tiven's studio. While the producer was unimpressed with the singer's audition, he challenged Hooks, asking him what he did. Hooks, miffed by the dismissal of his friend, told Tiven he sang. Tiven offered the young man a guitar and a chance to prove it, and a partnership was born. Hooks and Tiven began a working partnership that has yielded no less than three fine recordings. Undeniable was issued on the European Zane label in 2002. Using a backing band under the directorship of Tiven, who plays guitar, keyboards and alto saxophone, and his bass-playing wife Sally, Undeniable caught the ear of critics all over Europe, Time Out, in the U.K., acclaimed it the soul album of the year and it earned Hooks the headline spot on the BBC's World Music Festival on New Year's Day 2003. Hooks toured incessantly,playing club gigs, and he won an opening slot for Terence Trent D'Arby, where he played for over 40,000 people. Hooks also won the admiration of Carla Thomas and appeared at both the Montreux Jazz Festival and Poretta Soul Festival as her special guest. Hooks has issued two more albums. First, there's the rollicking Up Your Mind, on the Evidence label; it was released in late 2003, and garnered Hooks a W.C. Handy award nomination. March. 2004 saw the release of the stunning Uncomplicated (entitled Hand of God in Europe) on the Artemis label, and is gathering a storm of notoriety and praise on both sides of the Atlantic from critics and fans. Hooks is the true continuum in the celebrated Southern traditions of soul, blues, and gospel; his voice, while reminiscent of some of the greats, is nonetheless his own, and his phrasing is a trademark. Given the powerful nature of his recordings and his now-storied intensity in concert, Hooks may indeed be the artist who brings these historic traditions back into the musical dialogue and onto the charts in the 21st century. © Thom Jurek, All Music Guide