I’ll tell you this: You show up with your chest puffed out, wearing funnyglasses with bunch of feathers shoved into the front of your Stetson, and telling everyone you’re slinging “Piss-hot freightlining country music,” then you better deliver, son. Otherwise some redneck blasted on Bushmills might be waiting outside by the dumpster after your set, ready to stomp your face in.
But Ellis Bullard has nothing to worry about. This is no hipster that just blew in from east Nashville or Echo Park, CA. This is the latest honky-tonker to emerge out of Austin’s bar scene ready to bring shit kicking country music back to the forefront. Field tested on A-Town stages such as The White Horse and Sam’s Town Point, Ellis Bullard and his band of seasoned Austin A-listers make a strong case for national attention with this debut record.
Already raising blips on some people’s radar when Joe Rogan shouted Bullard out after seeing him slaying with his band at the White Horse right about the time Ellis released his blazing debut single “Roller Coaster,” Piss-Hot Freightlining Country Music is more where that came from, not trying to reinvent the wheel, just making country music that actually sounds country, while also making it cool. And if you want to make it on the Austin honky-tonk circuit, you have to play songs folks can two-step to, so everything is set in that ideal tempo to keep feet shuffling and limbs twitching.
Ellis Bullard comes from a long background of pickers and performers. His mom was a performer working down Muscle Shoals studios back in the 60s and 70s, and his great grandfather was a guitar player hanging around the Chet Atkins orbit. Bullard has been in a number of other bands, playing music on the road for going on a decade, but when he started his own with a bunch of players from other Austin projects, everything started to click and the crowds dug it.
Soon it was a going concern on a nightly basis, folks were packing out the clubs whenever they played, and they were heading into the studio. This thing has only been around for about a year or so, and it’s one of the hottest bands in town. It’s also important to emphasize that even though it’s Ellis Bullard’s name on the cover, he considers this a band, with guitarist Adam Duran, bassist Dillon Sampson, steel guitarists Sam Norris (touring) and Burton Lee, drummer Wyatt Lankford, and guitarist/background vocalist Kevin Foster all appearing on the record. Cole Beddingfield is the touring bassist for the band.
Though Ellis Bullard predictably rattles off guys like Merle Haggard and Jerry Reed as influences with the strong 70s vibe to the music and the affinity for semi-trucks, he also says Mo Bandy and his frequent collaborations with Joe Stampley also influence his sound, and that’s what you hear on this record. It doesn’t just pick up on the obvious notions of Outlaw era country, but the subtle ones too.
The songwriting is fine for now—passable but nothing exceptional, and the music can be a little bit “one note,” so to speak. But really, you seek out Ellis Bullard for the throwback style and the party that ensues around it. Perhaps the best thing about Ellis Bullard and this new record is you really feel like it’s just the beginning or a foundation of something that will be hitting its stride a few years from now, and you’ll still be enjoying in a decade or two. At only seven songs, consider Piss-Hot Freightlining Country Music a short album or a long EP, which is the perfect starting point to sprout your roots from, and make some noise outside of Texas.
But for now, Ellis Bullard is also just fine being an Austin honky tonker taking weekend gigs out of state if he can. As he expresses in the song “Chasing Numbers,” he’s not especially interested in getting rich, making a big splash on social media, or finding a stadium to play for validation. He putting the priorities of life and music first, keeping it all humble and honest, no matter how cocksure Bullard and the boys might be when they’re blazing on stage.
But hopefully Ellis Bullard also doesn’t get too comfortable on the local Austin circuit, which some refer to as the “velvet handcuffs” since you can play a show for an appreciative audience most every night of the week and never leave the city limits, and never really get anywhere. Because hungry country music fans beyond Austin sure do deserve to be exposed to what Ellis Bullard and the boys are throwing down.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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