Past Reviews

Ellis Paul Croons with a C&W Influence

August 19, 2005

GROWING up in Maine's towns and small cities, country music normally forms an aural backdrop. If you're not careful, it might sink in.

Singer-songwriter Ellis Paul was raised in Maine's northern-most county, but in his youth, he was tuned in to the Top 40. A lot of changes have come and gone since then. At the start of an uncommonly hectic week, Paul told the Guardian, "I picked up the guitar when I was 20, got an old classical from my girlfriend's sister, and started the hokey 70s songbook ... 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' ... John Denver... that kind of thing. I eventually discovered Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Prine."

Paul has done well at building an audience, zigzagging across the country on his way to 150 to 200 shows a year at coffeehouses, theaters, and festivals. In his travels, he met a well-known Vermont folk
musician.

"Rachel Bissex was a friend of mine and she is sorely missed," he said of the 48-year-old musician
who died in February of cancer. "She had a great attitude about life and her illness and was a great
musician. I remember seeing her about a year ago in San Diego, in a room full of musicians singing her
songs and having a great night. She looked really happy."

Paul's last album, "The Speed of Trees," was a beauty, and it made this writer's 2002 Top 10. But
instead of trying to top the success of that disc, Paul went into exploratory mode for the new one, "American Jukebox Fables" (Philo Records, 2005).

Producer "Flynn has been doing computerized production of late, and I thought it would be great if
we met half way on this album - me with banjos and accordions and acoustic guitars and he with laptops, hard drives, and drum loops," said Paul. "It was a fun experiment and I would like to try it again if I get the right batch of songs next time around.

"I felt like we were writing a country album but producing with all this cutting-edge pop production. It sometimes is good to mix things up a bit, and I didn't want to create another album with the same
approach. I haven't been this excited about the recording process in years."

Several tracks demand airplay, such as the softly strummed "Take All the Sky You Need," a song at the
threshold of unrequited love (maybe). But the snappy, percussion-powered opening cut - "Blacktop Train" is the standout.

Paul explained, "'Blacktop Train' is a song about the American highway and the sense of freedom people felt when they could finally drive to the coast from Illinois or go all the way cross country. It is a rock song, less of a story song, sort of an image collage: picture upon picture." And it's a rocking delight.

On "Blacktop Train," the brilliant supporting vocals are more than just an added attraction.
"Rachel Davis is a very talented young lady," raved Paul. "She wails like a waifed-out Aretha Franklin.
That girl is going places."

Paul, blessed with a silky, soaring voice, is arguably the folk circuit equivalent of a Gene Pitney
crooner. But the narrative quality of Paul's lyrics suggest a C&W influence that may have sneaked up on
him.

"Yes, there is a country songwriter in my blood," confessed Paul. "The directness of that kind of stortelling has been where I have been headed for the last few years, and I think it is making me a more
direct artist. I like the mini-movie of a good four-minute song. Many folk songs do this as well. It's hard to tell the difference between a good folk song and a good country song. One has more twang than the other when you hear them, but on paper they are the same."

As for his connections to this state, Paul said, "I have been playing Vermont for years and will for years to come. I am a New England boy who loves Montpelier and Burlington. I did my first photo shoot in a Buffalo farm up that way."

Ellis Paul will be at the Middle Earth Music Hall in Bradford on Friday, Sept. 2.


by Alan Lewis, Vermont Guardian

updated: 7 years ago