By John F. Guido
Hey guys, my name is John. This is Liner Notes. Here we go.
This week, I was planning on spotlighting an artist who’s a particular favorite of mine: Singer-songwriter Nikki Lane. However, thanks to a well timed Spotify suggestion, I stumbled upon Robert Ellis, and Ms. Lane was usurped by another Tennessean with a guitar.
So, what exactly made “Only Lies” so captivating? A lot has to do with the song’s intro: A haunting melody played out on slide guitar that melts into the rest of the track beautifully. It sets the tone for the rest of the song perfectly, and rather than serving as just a simple hook—something to hold space before one gets to the meat of the track, it pulls you into the song and holds you in the atmosphere Ellis creates. What’s more—and what’s especially cool—the slide guitar serves as a set of psuedo-background vocals for Ellis’ own leads, adding a depth and dynamism to the soft tones of Ellis’ voice and acoustic guitar.
Speaking of the acoustic—how about that segue?—it too is something special. Shirking off a more traditional set of chord work, Ellis incorporates a stellar bit of Folk/Bluegrass fingerpicking. Rather than seeming out of place on the track, Ellis’ playing manages to be restrained and fluid, forming a seamless melody with the aforementioned slide guitar and accenting the rhythm of the minimal yet resonating bass. All in all, each instrument only further builds the story told by Ellis—a third party looking on at a failing relationship.
The premise sounds cliché, but with Ellis’ honey sweet vocals—evocative of a smoother, twangier Willie Nelson—it’s hard not become at least partially invested in the tale. At the very least, Ellis has created a song beautiful enough that it will stick with you for a while; and maybe persuade you to listen to the full album—which you should.
- Nearly everything, but if we’re going into specifics: Ellis’ vocals, his fingerpicking, and the slide guitar that all combine into a song that is gentled and honeyed, but has a bit of a bite and hurt to it.
- The song borders on being almost too trancelike, allowing the track to fade into the back of your mind as it closes and almost causing the listener to lose focus on it.
When to Listen to it:
-When you need something to bring you back to the softer side of country music.
-Driving down a highway in the middle of Tennessee as the sun sets—it’ll be positively scenic.
If you Liked This, You’ll Like:
“You Can’t Talk to Me Like That” by Nikki Lane
“Lone Pine Hill” by Justin Townes Earle
“You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying” by Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers
John F. Guido is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org