Gregory Ellis – You Can Still Be Alright (Review)

Gregory Ellis has been a fixture of the South Carolina music and art community for decades. A Rock Hill native, he’s been writing, recording, and performing in various capacities for probably the majority of his life. Since around 2011, Greg has been the frontman of one of Rock Hill’s favorite bands, Motel Glory, who signed with Real South Records for their latest album release, Let ‘Em Live.

The last time Greg put out a solo record was 2011’s Party Gems and Sad Bastard Hymns, a collection of songs that were recorded between 2008 and 2010. Since then he’s been plenty busy with Motel Glory. However, as is the case with most bands during the current pandemic, Motel Glory isn’t doing too much at the moment. With all the free time that suddenly appeared, Greg decided to write and self-record a new solo album.

You Can Still Be Alright opens with “Counting Grays”, an upbeat jam that has an unforgettably groovy bass riff in the intro that fits in perfectly with the drums and jangly guitars, creating an absolutely satisfying feeling. This instrumental comes back a few times throughout the track, tying together driving verses and a chorus that contains an earworm of a hook.

“Brawny” is a more formulaic rock & roll song that Greg flavors with his unique brand of dry, pessimistic humor and a short and sweet Greg Ellis Guitar Solo™. “Dumb Hill to Die On” muses about the end of the world, our “damn disgrace” of a president, and washing your hands. He gets some bonus points here for name-dropping the Waffle House Index.

As was previously mentioned, Greg wrote and recorded this album during quarantine, “mainly to stay sane”. It was also his way to take advantage of all the free time he’d probably never get again and served as a distraction from “2020’s endless barrage of catastrophes”.

Greg is a certified professional when it comes to describing things and people he dislikes in song, but the title track, “You Can Still Be Alright”, brings some positivity that helps balance the record. The lyrics of this track admit that “it’s all shit,” but contend that since “you still cast a shadow, you know there’s a light”. This is a reminder we probably all need in month seven of the pandemic.

For the next two songs, Greg slows things down with some ballads. “Whatever It Was” is a love song about broken people, closing with the lyrics, “I’d rather wander in the dark with you than see the light with anybody else.” ”Spit on Me and Scrub (I Might Shine)” is a slightly bitter anthem about seeing your hometown change. Midwesterners move in, microbreweries open, and you find yourself trying to play “Hallelujah” for some obnoxious day-drinkers because they tipped you $5.

Except for a few older backing tracks he had kicking around, Greg played everything on the album. One of the advantages of being in bands your whole life is that you end up picking up a lot of musical know-how. Whenever he got frustrated mixing takes on instruments he rarely touches, he would encourage himself listening to other albums that musicians had recorded on their own.

“The Red Field” brings the tempo back up  with jangly guitars and a beautiful hook in the chorus. The way the bass follows the vocals with guitars fluttering behind them is gorgeous. “The Bells” is a “Gen X coming-of-age anthem” that is summed up perfectly with the chorus line, “Next year I’ll have a car.” This track is full of gritty imagery and angst that people of any generation can relate to.

“Idiot Twin” is a bit more low-key, but dwells on some of the same themes with some references to Rock Hill that anyone who’s spent any significant amount of time here will catch. While “The Bells” felt more directed at an old flame, this track feels more like it’s being sung to an old friend.

The album closes with “Borrowed Eyes”, which seems designed to be played at last call. Creative chord structures, some wailing slacker guitars, and spacy vocals make this song feel like it’s being heard through a drunk haze (in a good way).

Greg says he doesn’t have any plans to play these songs live. Currently, pretty much no one has plans to play anything live, so we can only hope that when the virus is gone he changes his mind. This album is a perfect picture of living through a pandemic in the deep red south, with pessimism and optimism mixed together in a way that only Gregory Ellis could achieve.

You Can Still Be Alright is available on all major streaming platforms as of October 15th, 2020. You can buy a CD on Bandcamp.

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