Tinsley Ellis has earned a reputation for heavy blues-rock guitar since he quit Atlanta's Heartfixers in 1987. Often it's been a little too heavy, ignoring the dynamic nuances that bring out the emotional nature of the blues. But Ellis's first album for Telarc lightens up just enough, so the sweet-and-high six-string intro to "Stuck in Love" enhances the song's guitar melody and the tenderness of his lyrics. He aims for a softer, thinner tone on "Real Bad Way" and turns "Feel No Pain" into a slow, soulful essay in guitar anxiety, full of telling fills, bends, and solo breaks. He also plays some acoustic numbers that allow the butter-and-black-pepper tones of his Southern-accented voice to emerge. Not that Ellis is playing things too cool; there's still plenty of guitar fire all over this record. It's just that he's learned to control the burning.
Flute virtuoso Hubert Laws has always occupied his own artistic turf, whether interpreting works by Mozart, Stravinsky, Dvorak, Debussy, Satie, Faure, and J.S. Bach or improvising with immaculate ease through the modern jazz compositions of Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane. He has also demonstrated a well-grounded attitude toward the mainstream pop repertoire, which he handles with comparable mastery. Bridge over Troubled Water, as one might guess, is an entire album of hit tunes by Paul Simon. Each melody is executed with the relaxed precision that has always characterized much of this artist's work. The flutist is backed by pianist John Beasley, bassist Stanley Gilbert, drummer Ralph Penland, and the West L.A. Strings under the direction of Stanley Gilbert.