In 2011, Houston’s Robert Ellis made a sizable splash with his New West Records debut Photographs. The long-haired singer got a write-up in The New York Times and headlined tours across the country, and it’s easy to understand why. Photographs is a remarkably mature record for a man in his early twenties. Split between an acoustic first half and a more raucous second half, the album showcased Ellis’ obvious gifts as a country songwriter.
Flash-forward a few years: Ellis has cut his hair and moved to Nashville, two acts that are tantamount to treason here in the land of Willie Nelson. During a 2013 live session in Studio 1A, Ellis got a chance to explain himself. Speaking about his hair, he claimed he got tired of “looking like a dirtbag,” and the move to Nashville offered an opportunity to get more professional about his music. Being in the thick of the country establishment has been a real boon to Ellis, inspiring him to up his songwriting game.
That’s immediately apparent on The Lights From The Chemical Plant, a record that pays as much homage to Ellis’ childhood in Houston as his adulthood in Nashville. He incorporates his life-long love of jazz into his honky-tonk ramblings, just like Willie Nelson did before him, and Bob Wills did before Willie. Ellis again stopped by Studio 1A recently to play a few songs from the new record, and that’s where today’s song of the day comes from. “Only Lies” is the record’s dark center, revolving around the refrain, “Only lies can comfort you / Only lies will see you through.” Ellis is proof positive that it doesn’t matter what your zip code is when you’re writing strong, emotionally-substantive country music.