Stories

Ellis Paul

Philo (PH 1181)

A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by David Elbert (elbert@gibbs.eps.jhu.edu)

The first thing that hits you from Ellis Paul's second release is a strong groove and his edgey tenor. It's no surprise that for the third year in a row he carried home gold from the Boston Music Awards this year for Outstanding Male Vocalist, as well as Folk & Acoustic Album of the Year - for this very release! This rocketing star of the new folk field is sure to win over a broad new audience with his knack for coupling insightful songwriting with a modern sound. Although it took me several listens to connect with much of PaulÕs music (I donÕt have the benefit of ever hearing Paul live), IÕm now running around telling all my friends to listen to him. Ellis Paul transcends many equally skilled singer/songwriters by taking a broader and often more daring view of the world. If he can get the airplay, this guy should be a success in formats ranging from folk to modern rock.

Stories has 11 songs plus a minute and fifteen second reprise of "3000 Miles" tagged on. Although they vary considerably in musical styles, all the songs share the interesting images and intelligent lyrics fans have come to expect from Ellis Paul. With Stories, Paul paints portraits of America that the evening news canÕt seem to convey. Reminiscent of such luminaries as John Gorka and Lyle Lovett, Ellis Paul is comfortable mixing upbeat tunes with tragic stories. For example, the opening track, All Things Being The Same, is a gentle rocker set in the single life of every city. While it's tempting simply to bop along with production that mimics Mary Chapin Carpenter hits, closer listening reveals a woman spiraling down in a trap of alcohol and empty romance.

At times, Paul paints his portraits rather distantly. That approach would seem to court disinterest, but he seems up to the challenge. "3,000 Miles" is an upbeat tale of a Wisconsin traveler who spends fourteen days on a Greyhound bus. The images aren't new, but the result is a pulsing homage to the road. The song is filled with compassion for the underside of society. Lines like "people talk to themselves on Greyhounds, even the driver strains to hear" are effective. Anyone who has been on a bus will recognize the scene.

Among my personal favorites are "Here She Is" and "Autobiography Of A Pistol". The first is one of the most touching love songs I've heard. This song is so good that I don't even know how to begin to describe it. I guess the beauty is that almost every image and observation caught me by surprise. Yet those images seemed to go right to something extremely personal about the feeling of being in love.

"Autobiography Of A Pistol" is a killer. This tight, urban driver is an instant assault on your senses. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Ice T, but it's just as scathing social commentary; all from the perspective of the gun. What can I say? The song is smoking.

Despite his awards for vocal prowess, I find the biggest strength of Stories is the songs. One of the greatest strengths of Ellis Paul's writing is that he uses common images, even common turns-of-phrase, but declines judging them for you. Like most good songwriters, he has an uncanny ability to paint vivid images in the listener's mind, but he offers you enough respect to leave those pictures uninterpreted.

Bottom line: Stories is a nearly terrific album. While I have one cut that I generally program out, I am having more and more trouble getting through a day without hearing this CD at least once. My view? Buy it. Play it. Give it a week even if it doesn't really grab you instantly. Then start spreading the word! I think this is one that I'll still be playing on a regular basis for years.

Copyright, 1995 by Three Rivers Folklife Society.
It may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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