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Robert Ellis | Texas Piano Man

The Austin troubadour knocks your socks off when he isn't tickling your funny bone.

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“I‘m f—ing crazy,” asserts Robert Ellis by way of introduction on his latest album Texas Piano Man. As opening lines go, it’s definitely an attention-getter. And perhaps even a little more accurate than you might think. After all, how many singer-guitarists do you know that would put down their primary instrument to write their new album completely on piano? And even if they did, it’s highly unlikely they would come up with an album as fiendishly clever, playfully silly and artfully ambitious as Texas Piano Man. Taking his cues from the likes of ’70s ivory-tickling outsiders like Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Leon Russell — not to mention Elton John, Gram Parsons and, yes, the original Piano Man Billy Joel — Ellis toggles between witty Ben Foldsian ditties (Nobody Smokes Anymore, Topo Chico) and sincerely sentimental fare (Father, Lullaby). No matter the mood, though, he maintains an impressively high level of craftsmanship in terms of both musicianship and arrangements. So what you end up with is an album that knocks off your socks and touches your heart as often as it smacks your funny bone. Ellis may be crazy, but clearly he’s no fool.