Written by James Killen
Sep 19, 2013 at 06:30 PM
ImageThe fall concert series at Discovery Green has begun again with an up-and-coming Houstonian taking the lead on stage for the first show. Robert Ellis has been influenced by talents as diverse as George Jones, Paul Simon and the Grateful Dead. The first show of the season suffered a low turnout due to the rain that blanketed the city through the afternoon. Luckily, the sun peeked through the clouds and the show on the hill could go forward.

Although Ellis got his start in Houston at places like Mango’s and Fitzgerald’s, Thursday night’s show was his first in Houston since New Year’s Eve. Ellis fronted a five piece band complete with pedal steel, lead guitar, bass, drums and himself on acoustic and vocals. Most of the songs were performed as straight ahead country numbers and drew heavily from his latest disc, “Photographs”.

He lined them up to start the set with “West Bound Train”, “Coming Home” and “Two Kinds of Paint” featuring plenty of pedal steel magic and some wandering melodies. The forth song was a strike off in a different direction called “Good Intentions” from his out of print “Great Rearranger” CD.  The lyrics followed traditional C&W wordplay (“I don’t care how wrong it is, I’ve got good intentions”), but featured a slightly psychedelic bass line and guitar solo.

Robert then treated the crowd to a new tune called “Pride” that should show up on his next release, due out in February of next year. It was a C&W tune with a nightclub jazz bass line that gave it a special smoky air. He featured several new tunes including “Only Lies” and “The TV Song”. The lead guitar player sometimes showed influences from Chet Atkins and Les Paul and sometimes from Jerry Garcia. The pedal steel player was no slouch either, stretching out on several cool solos.

The band did a couple of covers which were Roseanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache” and Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All of These Years”, interspersed with Ellis originals like “Photographs” and “Friends Like Those”.

The evening’s set ended with another of Robert Ellis’s original tunes called “Sing Along”. That tune caught me coming completely out of left field. It started with a three of four minute Grateful Dead “Space”-like jam and then burst into a lively bluegrass style condemnation of the fire and brimstone style of evangelism as applied to scaring young children toward religion. “It’s a hell of a thing to do to a kid to teach him right from wrong by telling him he’ll burn in Hell if he doesn’t sing along”. That line left me with my mouth gaping.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the next Robert Ellis CD takes him. He can play the straight up Country singer as well as anybody in Nashville, but he walks a line, in the way that Ryan Bingham does, that says he will not be limited by any specific music genre. I am looking forward to my next opportunity to see him.

ImageThe evening’s show was kicked off by a young couple from Temple, Texas named the Clarks. They had a down home bluegrass sound with Brandi Belle Clark singing and playing fiddle and Bryce Clark getting off some fine acoustic guitar licks and a few vocals here and there.

They had several witty original tunes like “Drinking for Three” about finding out they were going to be parents and “Love is Blind” (“it’s not stupid”). Their song “Moon Over Nashville” featured some very nice instrumental work. They also got off a couple of covers like Ernest Tubb’s “Thanks A Lot” and a bluegrass version of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”. They were quite an entertaining young couple.

So the Discovery Green series has some great acts lined up between now and late October. Keep an eye out for some nice entertainment for free on the front lawn of the George R. Brown Convention Center. Ya’ll have fun. We do.