Singer-songwriters tend to get boring. They churn out a couple of solid, inward-looking—and often self-serious—albums; rinse and repeat the process a few times, changing little; then promptly fade from the public eye and into the record-store discount bin. Only the truly exceptional artists, with the right mix of confidence and wit—Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Waits—dare to scrap the template that first won them acclaim and basically start over, with a new, often sideways approach to their craft.
That’s exactly what Texas native Robert Ellis has done with his latest album, Texas Piano Man, due February 14. Ellis’ first full-length, 2011’s much-beloved Photographs, was a whispery, acoustic affair that arrived when whispery, acoustic affairs were having something of a moment, and his subsequent albums didn’t stray far from the path. On Texas Piano Man, however, Ellis has recast himself as a sort of Randy Newman, or even Harry Nilsson, of the Lone Star State, forsaking his acoustic guitar for a piano in this collection of wry, upbeat pop tunes.
The approach suits Ellis well. “Nobody Smokes Anymore,” which Men’s Journal is pleased to premiere above, laments the fact that, well, nobody smokes anymore. In it, Ellis takes issue—maybe earnestly, maybe not—with the fact that “everyone else seems to have it all together,” adding that, “Everyone acts like they want to live forever … the last years of your life are so shitty anyway.”
Texas Piano Man, with songs like “Nobody Smokes Anymore” and the already-released gem “Fucking Crazy,” distinguishes Ellis not only as a good songwriter but also a creative one—no doubt with enough imagination and charm to avoid becoming a discount-bin cast-off anytime soon.