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Preview: Robert Ellis

Noah Bonaparte Pais on the Texas-to-Nashville singer playing The Beatnik May 26

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Robert Ellis has country bona fides (small-town Texas upbringing, current Nashville residency) and a generous tenor that bends pitch like his tonsils are dual whammy bars. With his third LP The Lights From the Chemical Plant (New West), Ellis has the record to match: an impeccably produced collection of drifter ballads and faded-suede blues, one foot in the unreeling narrative traditions of Don McLean and Paul Simon (whose "Still Crazy After All These Years" gets a seamless update), the other nudging him into the arranged classical-folk strains of Andrew Bird. For every ringing steel guitar and aluminum banjo, there's an against-the-grain surprise, be it the bass tap dance and smoldering solo that exit "Houston" or the Moonlighting saxophone busking through the fermented love song "Bottle of Wine." Buffed to a crystalline sheen by engineer Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Tom Waits), Ellis spins his yarns as the book and music to a modern opry, no less grand or ole for reverse-pining over an anti-Betty Draper in escapist opener "TV Song," or killing himself for leaving her behind on sobering closer "Tour Song." It's still country; there are no happy endings. Caleb Caudle opens. Tickets $10.

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