Second Opinion: Country Boy Robert Ellis On Tuesday's Haggard-Kristofferson Twin Bill

Occasionally Rocks Off is able to get over being a selfish bastard long enough to do something nice for other people (or so we'd like to think, anyway). A few days ago, we asked up-and-coming Houston twanger Robert Ellis if he would like to be our plus-one to Tuesday's Merle Haggard/Kris Kristofferson clash of the honky-tonk titans, and he eagerly accepted.

We'd like to thank Robert for going with us, and for that off-brand "apple juice" from Spec's that got us nice and proper before and after the show. Here are his thoughts on the evening:

"I can't recall ever enjoying a concert more than seeing Merle and Kris together Tuesday. Musically, the show was very minimal. It wasn't a common setup, for Merle especially. He played a classical guitar all night, which gave both his and Kris' songs a sort of Willie-esque feel. His solos were great and tasteful as usual. On the nylon-string guitar they had a different character than I am used to hearing from him.

"He usually plays on a Tele but he allowed the lead player to take care of the twang while he played more melodic lines. The band was very reserved and laid-back, only playing what was needed. The drummer had only a snare and one cymbal, and played very quietly (especially when it was clear that he didn't quite know the song).

"Each played their own well-known hits and crowd-pleasers. In the context of the small band, what really stood out was what great songwriters both these guys are. That is partially why this show was so magical; the focus was on the songs. Every aspect of the performance served the melody and lyrics.

"They didn't play absolutely everything I wanted to hear. I would have loved to see 'For the Good Times' from Kris and 'The Bottle Let Me Down' from Merle. Yet, in a way, I am glad they didn't do every hit. It was nice to see some of the less-played tunes they chose. [Ed. Note: Kristofferson's "Here Comes That Rainbow Again," Haggard's "They're Tearing the Labor Camps Down" and Bob Wills' "Take Me Back to Tulsa," for example.]

"Kristofferson made me tear up a few times with his songcraft and sincerity. I overheard some old drunk woman in the beer line criticizing his voice, but watching him do his own versions of his songs the way he thought they should sound was spectacular. "'Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)' just about killed me. [Ed. Note: Hear hear.] Hearing Hag sing 'Today I Started Loving You Again' was a high point in my life!

It was a great show and more good memories than I can count."

Robert Ellis & the Boys play 9 p.m. Wednesdays at Mango's, 403 Westheimer, 713-522-8903 or Free.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray