From: CA, United States
A native of Savannah, GA and now living in Los Angeles, Tawny Ellis traveled back to the South to record, Ghosts of the Low Country, her 6th recording and 2nd EP.
While, on tour in the South with her longtime collaborator and husband, Gio Loria and inspired by the documentary, Muscle Shoals, the two dropped by the renowned Fame Studios. As fortune would have it, they met with Producer and Founder, Rick Hall, who invited them to record after they had finished with their tour. “We had only ten days left of the tour”, explains Ellis, “and in those ten days Ghosts of The Low Country was written.”
Playing a few dates with the Athens, GA band, Five Eight, guitar player Sean Dunn and drummer Patrick Ferguson joined in on the fun. “We all made our way back down to Alabama and practiced and arranged the songs we had in mind,” said Ellis. Adding bassist Peter Hamilton Ellis concedes, “It came together very quickly the night before we recorded and then we hit it in the morning! It was challenging and intense, but ‘Ghosts of the Low Country’ is one of my favorite songs I have written to date.” While playing a date at the County Fair, Ellis and Loria met Muscle Shoals native, Jason Isbell backstage. Isbell had recorded several times at Fame studios and Ellis and Isbell shared the same engineer when mastering their records, Pete Lyman at Infrasonic Mastering. “Everything about this record was kismet, “ said Ellis. The sounds on Ghosts of the Low Country are as soulful as the region and bring to life the aspects of music and song indicative not only of Tawny Ellis and Gio Loria, but of the very landscape of Muscle Shoals.
From throaty to wistful, Ellis is in control of her voice and able to pull on her Southern roots at will. Guitar Magazine described her voice as “…the sort of voice one could make a meal of, in the vein of Neko Case or Ray LaMontagne—not to mention country singers from years, if not ages, past.” The record contains 2 original songs and 2 covers. The title track renders the story of Teh-La-Nay, a Native American of the Yuchi tribe forced from her home to a reservation in Oklahoma and her near decade travel back to her Tennessee River, the “Singing River” located in Muscle Shoals neighboring town of Florence. “Desperate Tonight” is a Five Eight original that brings the band’s own sound together with Ellis and Loria. Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” is an homage to the artist she is often compared to. “Evolve or Die” is an older track that was chosen by Ellis a song that deserved the particulars, rarities and royalties of a Fame studio recording.
Besides the songwriting and vocals, Ellis contributes lap steel guitar to the record. She picked it up 4 years ago after watching longtime neighbor and friend Producer Daniel Lanois play. “Watching him has taught me a lot,” she said, “He is he best so I spy on his moves. I have a long way to go but I am dedicated to this blend of the lap steel and my voice together.” She talks about meeting him in 2008, “We talked about the CD I had just released and his belief that songwriters should write classic songs and not to worry about genre, to be a timeless artist. Since then he has subtly guided me with his philosophies and inspired me with his work ethic. His heartbeat is music and everyday his life is a testament to his commitment.” The multi-talented Gio Loria is also a musical inspiration to her. “He believes in me so much and he encourages me to write more and play more. We’ve been playing together since the day we met.”
Ellis’ talent doesn’t end with music. She’s an accomplished sculptor with an ancestral connection to one of the world’s most famous sculptors/painters, Edgar Degas. Working in bronze, wire and cement, she’s had gallery showings in Los Angeles, New Orleans and France and her work can be found all over the world. Lanois happens to also be a fan of her artwork and has recently commissioned a hand sculpted pedal steel fret board to be cast in bronze.
“I was sculpting at a very young age,” she explains, “I feel like it is my natural state to be creating things otherwise I am no good.” She claims that being a sculptor has helped her to see music in textures. “I create to live and performing is my most natural state. I need that communication with people, it’s a language that makes me feel alive and excited to be here. It’s so mystical—the language of music and art. I can’t get over how it takes down boundaries we have as people trying to communicate with one another. It gives great understanding where there would be none. Music is the great healer.”