Album Review – Ellis Bullard’s “Honky Tonk Ain’t Noise Pollution”

It’s over. You might as well bulldoze Austin, or level it with an atom bomb. What hasn’t been bought up and gentrified with ultra modern architecture by the tech bros, is clogged with homeless and purple-haired nonbinaries in their Prius cars rushing to give your elementary-aged children gender affirming care. And the music? Forget about it. All that’s left is shoegaze nerdcore EDM or some half-baked hip-hop down on 6th Street. Don’t even think about finding anything resembling good country music in Austin anymore.

…or so the naysayers who haven’t been to Austin in a dozen years will tell you. In truth, just like the rest of country music, Austin country is enjoying a strong resurgence. Now that dudes like Charley Crockett and Silverada have gone national, it’s up to a new crop of homegrown honky tonkers to step up, pay dues, and hopefully use the city as a launching pad. At the top of the list of those surging performers is one Ellis Bullard, originally from Matagorda County.

Haunting some of Austin’s most hopping beer joints such as The White Horse, Sagebrush, and Sam’s Town Point, Ellis Bullard, his barrel-chested voice, and his badass honky tonk band are the dudes to see. When people from out of town ask you where you should go to find the real deal Austin honky tonk experience, the answer is wherever Ellis Bullard is playing. That’s where the party will be.

Now on his second full-length album called Honky Tonk Ain’t Noise Pollution, Bullard doubles down on the Austin honky tonk sound, and if anything, puts even more guts behind it. Be prepared, because this album might inspire you to do some self-destructive things like stomp your boot straight through the floor, start smoking filterless Camels, buy a run-down 1985 Chevy short bed pickup to restore, or install a mechanical bull in your living room when your wife is away at a seminar.

Ellis Bullard puts on a clinic of classic honky tonk music on this record, from the half time Outlaw pulsations of “Prison In My Mind,” to the blues progression of “What’s a Man To Do,” to the perfect two-stepping song, “Patron and Lime.” The way the lead guitar and steel pair up on the melody of “Young, Wild and Free” is everything that country music is supposed to be. Steeped in old school country, it’s hard to fuss about any single note on this album.

Though it’s Ellis Bullard’s name on the front, his collaborators deserve some love too, namely steel guitarist Sam Norris, lead guitarist Austin Roach who previously played with Jesse Daniel, drummer Kyle Ponder originally of Mike and the Moonpies (now Silverada), and bassist Cole Beddingfield. Killer guitarist Adam Duran who’s currently out on tour with Kaitlin Butts also contributed, as did Patrick Herzfeld and Jon Grossman

It’s fair to say that you don’t necessarily come to the music of Ellis Bullard for the outstanding writing. The lyricism is fine, but his songs seem to start with the music, the era, and the mood he looks to evoke, and then work out from there. But that’s fine. This is no listening room songbird. This is Ellis Bullard, and he can develop deeper writing in the future if he chooses.

For now though, Ellis Bullard is the hot thing of the Austin honky tonks, drawing local praise and national buzz. And like all of his Austin-based predecessors, Ellis Bullard is doing it his own way and keeping it real.


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