Tiny Desk

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis somehow finds wide-eyed wonder in heartbreak. His downbeat themes come up against sonically ambitious and lushly arranged sounds on his self-titled, fourth album, which plays with country and Americana music tradition, not to mention the legacy of '70s singer-songwriters.

So when Ellis and backing guitarist Kelly Doyle came to the NPR Music offices dressed in sharp suits (Ellis' "uniform" this year, he told me), they retained these meticulous and thoughtful arrangements by foregrounding the tender and timeless melodies with busy, yet reinforcing guitar work. The grandiose "How I Love You" becomes a slow-burner desperate with lingering desire. The fiery, bluegrass-inspired "Drivin'" guzzles fuel with no destination in mind, Ellis "just surviving" without his lover. It's a song that makes a point out of the many things we do to forget, lyrically ("I've changed all the light bulbs and had this conversation about three million times or more. I guess I'll walk around the grocery store ... again") and musically as Ellis and Doyle's fingers blaze across guitar strings.

Ellis closes with "California" at the piano like the soft-rockers of yesteryear — tellingly, Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is" was teased during sound check — but he wrenches drama from his Texas twang, a soulfully bouncing rhythm and Doyle's hypnotic guitar pattern. On record, synths and electronics take the song to atmosphere, but here "California" is broken down as hopes fall apart.

Robert Ellis is available for pre-order now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List
  • "How I Love You"
  • "Drivin'"
  • "California"
Credits

Producers: Lars Gotrich, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Jackson Sinnenberg; Photo: Brandon Chew/NPR.

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Delicate Steve performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Mar. 3, 2017. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR) Marian Carrasquero/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marian Carrasquero/NPR

Tiny Desk

Delicate Steve

This fierce and lyrical guitar player writes playful instrumental music led by hooky vocals — but there is no voice, just the human-like twang of a glass slide on a guitar.

Sampha performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 7, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Sampha

A Tiny Desk Concert as intimate as it gets (that's saying something). Just Sampha, a piano and three heart-wrenching songs that seem to double as coping mechanisms.

Red Baraat performs at Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 8, 2017. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR) Marian Carrasquero/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marian Carrasquero/NPR

Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Special Edition: Red Baraat's Holi Celebration

The Brooklyn bhangra band come to the Tiny Desk in celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of color that welcomes the coming of spring.

Tank And The Bangas perform perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Mar. 6, 2017. (Niki Walker/NPR) Niki Walker/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Niki Walker/NPR

Tiny Desk

Tank And The Bangas

Tank And The Bangas' victory lap around the Tiny Desk was momentous, celebratory and deeply touching, with a flair and alchemy of styles that could come from New Orleans.

Maren Morris performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 16, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Maren Morris

One of the newest Grammy winners stops by the Tiny Desk to share her winking, sometimes tongue-in-cheek songs.

Ninet Tayeb performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 14, 2017. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR) Marian Carrasquero/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marian Carrasquero/NPR

Tiny Desk

Ninet

One of Israel's very popular artists may be walking a similar path to early-career Joan Jett — she brought that same intensity to the Tiny Desk.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 23, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

To celebrate Fat Tuesday, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band brought their euphoric horns to the Tiny Desk for a raucous, joyous set.

Little Simz performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 23, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Little Simz

Little Simz has been compared to Lauryn Hill for her self-reflective wordplay. And though the British lyricist is a relative new-comer, her Tiny Desk performance was poised and confident.

Agnes Obel performs perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 9, 2016. (Raquel Zaldivar/NPR) Raquel Zaldivar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Raquel Zaldivar/NPR

Tiny Desk

Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel manipulated the Tiny Desk to better suit the deeply alluring and powerful music she brought to us.

Esme Patterson performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 1, 2017. (NPR) NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Esmé Patterson

Esmé Patterson has dropped the banjos and folk from her previous project Paper Bird, and in their place are electric guitars and a backing band worth getting behind.

Back To Top