Ellis Paul "Chasing Beauty" album review
October 21, 2014
Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
A voice and a guitar. When mated correctly, the results can often be stunning. No one singer-songwriter has illustrated that better over the course of their career than Virginia-via-Boston troubadour Ellis Paul. On his latest album, Chasing Beauty, he makes one of his strongest statements to date and continues to reiterate why he in the world of acoustic-based songwriting, there’s Ellis Paul and then there’s everybody else.
The album opens with the breezy and buoyant “Never Want to Lose You,” a near-perfect opening salvo of jubilant acoustic rock that very much hits at what Paul does best. His choruses are golden, his verses are tight and his voice is unmatched. Nimble, tender and wholly convincing he has an uncanny ability to convey a myriad of emotions with the simplest of utterances. On the playful followup “Wasted,” he unravels a barstool yarn backed by an inspired banjo and a bleary-eyed conclusion. Not content to give way to balladry just yet, Paul and his session band kick up the sonic ante on the heartland stomper “Kick Out the Lights (Johnny Cash),” a barnstorming throwback to 60s era folk that delights from the very first seconds.
As charming as his upbeat tracks are, Paul really shines on ballads and “Drive in Movie” and “Waiting on a Break” are two such examples. The former is an inward albeit seductive valentine to a lover that is as sweet as it sensitive and is anchored by the line “Looking for a little salvation, take me on a long vacation.” The latter however is the album’s first real apex moment, a song that is arguably one of Paul’s absolute best, a career defining ballad not unlike Dawes’ “A Little Bit of Everything.” Ostensibly a song about a blue collar man living out a dream it is a sweeping ballad that is equal parts transcendent, timeless and tantamount. Co-written by Boston-based songwriter Adam Ezra, “Waiting on a Break” is the kind of song artists spend lifetimes trying to write. Chasing Beauty’s opening act concludes with “UK Girl (Boston Calling)” and “Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus.”
“UK Girl (Boston Calling)” is a full-scale anthem not unlike “Kick Out the Lights” or the opener “Never Want to Lose You.” Though he’s made a name for himself with just his guitar, Paul absolutely shines with the help of studio musicians and “UK Girl (Boston Calling)” is arguably one of the strongest of his illustrious career. Ditto for the biographical romp, “Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus,” about an aviator who had his heyday in the early part of the 20th century. The best songwriters are those who can take characters not their own and make them fully alive and vulnerable. Paul does exactly that with "Jimmie Angel."
The second act of Chasing Beauty opens with “Love is a Curious Thing,” a lyrically sound effort but certainly not one of the disc’s strongest. Thankfully, Paul still has more nuggets up his sleeve. The tender intimacy of “Drive-In Movie” is revisited in “Hold Me, Scold Me.” Doing more power just his voice and a guitar than most artists will do in a lifetime, Paul shines from the very first note and rallies home a tender valentine that any married man can relate to.
Though Paul has never lived in New York, he displays his affinity for the city with “Empire State,” a first-rate ballad about the builders of Manhattan’s most iconic skyscraper. Tracks like “Empire State” are Paul’s bread and butter and the very reason he remains as dominant as he is 20-plus years removed from the infancy of his career. Though the latter half of the album does trail off in places, the deeply poignant “Plastic Soldiers” and the spartan “One Could Kiss Can Do Me In” are especially strong.
More often than not fourteen-song albums are chock full of filler and duds but nowhere on Chasing Beauty is that the case. This fact should not be overlooked. Fifteen studio albums into a career he stumbled into accidentally, Paul continues to deliver quality album after quality album and Chasing Beauty is the latest example. Though he’s probably not on your radar and though he’ll never achieve titanic attention on this very site, there are enough gems on this disc that should charm any music listener. That is the very power of Ellis Paul. Everyone can relate to him and his songs and for that reason he continues to be a national treasure.
by Gregory Robson, Absolute Punk