by David Williams, HNN Freelance Correspondent
Jeff Ellis and 40 Days "Modern Times Blues"

On his new CD "Modern Times Blues", accomplished singer/ songwriter Jeff Ellis is armed with a powerful rocking band 40 Days.  Although the stellar stories, social commentary, and the Tom Petty-like vocals that have been Ellis's trademark are still there, Ellis now has the firepower to crank up the amps and rock out.

The cd kicks off with the snarly, blues backwood country of "On The Right Road Now."  The track is a perfect opener as the song chomps along with a sense of urgency with the aid of a harmonica and lyrics with a message about getting another chance.  The song even has a slight bluegrass twang to it.

There's a blues vibe that starts the cd and moves into the mojo blues of the second track "Poor Penny".  This has a Black Keys type feel of modern blues rock and some killer guitar riffs laced with some stomping traditional blues as well.

The title track "Modern Times Blues" is an anthemic blues rocker with sharp riffs.  The band has the amps cranked up on this one and the big meaty chorus would make any 70's arena rock band proud. 

Ellis doesn't totally abandon his singer/songwriter sensibilities..."Must Be Something In The Water" is right out of the Jeff Ellis songbook looking at the contaminated water in The Elk River.  Ellis has always written songs with social commentary and  as he did in his classic "The Men In The Sago Mine", he often talks about his native West Virginia.  Ellis also tells a story about physical abuse in "Battery", in which he again stages the characters in West Virginia.

Ellis also visits the 70's/ 80's AOR pop rock that he has done so well in the past on songs "Never Enough" and "The Night Shift."  Ellis is an artist who is not afraid to show his influences like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen and he does his heroes proud on sharp worded well-crafted songs like those two. 

Ellis, a South Charleston, WV police officer, shows a comedic touch but still keeps his trademard vivid imagery and realism on the Warren Zevon like "So. Charleston City Beat Blues.  This song showcases his brilliant songwriting ability: "The shoplifters at Walmart are busy picking the shelves clean While the panhandlers standing out front make more than the employees". 

He has a way with words that makes you realize how absurd but still how serious the situation is.  From "So. Charleston City Beat Blues", he writes "The crazy lady on 9th says there’s a prowler outside her house It’s just a meth head in her flower bed dressed up in his girlfriend’s blouse On Riverside there’s a battered wife who says her boyfriend’s hitting her kids She’ll call the law but she won’t press charges ‘cause that’s just how it is Yeah, that’s just how it is" and you don't know rather to laugh or cry about the reality of the problem."

Ellis is a little louder and a little bluesier  at times as he is backed by a powerful stellar band, but he still is an artist who crafts songs and stories instead of just writing them.  He's put out some strong cds in the past but he has outdone himself this time.  With "Modern Times Blues", Ellis has a band that has the ability to take it a couple of notches louder, but Ellis does not abandon the craftiness that has made him one of West Virginia's best entertainments.  This is a cd that can be cranked up and still make you think while you rock out.