Tinsley Ellis

The Hard Way - Telearc

On the opening track of his new album, The Hard Way, Atlanta-based blues rocking guitarist Tinsley Ellis growls: "I've been on this road so long/Chasing fame and fortune/Singing the devil's song." Set against a pounding, near-psychedelic Cream-style groove, Ellis' tune "Still in the Game" summarizes his veteran status.

And indeed, he is still in the game, playing in excess of 200 dates a year after nearly a quarter-century of roadwork.

With his ninth disc, Ellis expands out of the blues-rock genre that has more or less defined him since his early '80s beginnings with Atlanta's Heartfixers. In particular, the gruff-voiced guitarist shifts into a sweeter '70s soul mode on songs such as the Al Green-tinged "Me Without You," the light funk of "I'll Get Over You" and the driving Rascals/ Sam & Dave R&B of "My Love's the Medicine."

"It's easier to fake being a blues singer than it is to fake being a soul singer," he says jokingly. And even though he won't be compared with Otis Redding, Ellis' vocals have attained a softer, more soulful quality.

The album is also a homecoming of sorts, recorded here with Atlanta's Count M'Butu, Oliver Wood and Marcus James of King Johnson, Donna Hopkins and Sean Costello (on harmonica!) contributing. Ellis — who produced for the first time and wrote or co-wrote all the material — finds this his most listenable and diverse release.

"I hope that's how people see this album, as something that's eclectic and soulful," he says.

Tinsley Ellis plays Smith's Olde Bar Sat., May 8. $12.