Joe Ross Review of Ellis Paul Essentials
Friday, January 12, 2007
ELLIS PAUL -
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA. 02140
Playing Time - 1:16:46 (CD#1), 1:07:30 (CD#2)
Wow, what a body of material to get an historical overview of Ellis Paul' songwriting for the past twenty years. He has many many kinds of songs over the years - folk, love, pop, story, rock, and even novelty songs. This 2-CD set with nearly two and one-half hours of music deserves close listening and analysis of melodies, lyrics, messages, and arrangements. He's worked with seven producers over the years and many more musicians.
Paul attributes "Conversation With A Ghost" (released in 1992) as the first song that brought people out to the clubs of Boston to hear him play. Folksinger Bill Morrissey was producing his music back then. Most recently in 2006, his "American Jukebox Fables" album was produced by Flynn, and there are several cuts from that project on this compilation. There is some previously unreleased material on "Essentials" too, including some live material from some 2006 shows in Mass. and Maine. Reviewing this project a week before Christmas, I especially enjoyed "Snow in Austin," a Texas Christmas song. Another unreleased song was an attention-grabber entitled "Welcome Home To Maine," a writing assignment about his birthplace and its features for the Maine Governor. John Jennings produced some of the newest material for "Essentials" with The Best of Band that included Paul and Jennings, along with J. T. Brown, Dave Mattacks, Don Conoscenti, and Rachel Davis contributing background vocals on one cut.
From the stock of Maine potato farmers, Ellis Paul moved to Boston, studied music, connected with the roots of the folk genre, then proceeded to develop a signature singer/songwriter sound that now incorporates pop, rock and contemporary sensibilities. Ellis Paul's wise perceptiveness and charisma have built him a strong fan base. He's also a hardworking, resilient touring artist who has garnered numerous awards for ten album releases and music, some of which has been featured in soundtracks for the films, Shallow Hal and Me, Myself, & Irene.
Ellis' voice has much character, and his songs understand the bond between land, life, heart and soul. Most are slower to moderate tempo'ed, and Ellis does particular well creating an intimate and familiar feeling with some songs. Keyboards and percussion provide the primary instrumental excitement that serve to increase the emotional impact of his later material. I would've enjoyed more vocal harmony in his arrangements.
Ellis possesses all the fundamental elements for success as a singer/songwriter. His messages are profound, and they make us think. For example, "Home" (from the American Jukebox Fables album) is a lover's tribute with the "house being just an address, you're my home." "Jukebox on my Grave" leaves us with his simple wish to mark the music man's ultimate resting place. His influences are many -- Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Rolling Stones, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Patty Griffin and others. Interesting that "Essentials" tips his hat to Woody Guthrie tribute artists and even Woody himself "in a sense." Ellis Paul's imagination and skill are both polished and fanciful all in one. He is a masterful singer/songwriter. (Joe Ross)