Ellis Paul

Review-The Press & Sun Bulletin

Fun songs, serious lessons on Paul's CD for kids
By Chris Kocher, Press & Sun-Bulletin

"The Dragonfly Races," Ellis Paul

As every parent knows, even the best kids' music can get really old after the 5,000th listen -- and the worst kids' music (think Barney the Purple Plague's dirge-like theme song) could drive anyone insane long before that.

So as part of their never-ending quest for something new and different, parents and children alike should find a lot to love on "The Dragonfly Races," the latest album from folk-pop singer/songwriter Ellis Paul. Inspired by the birth of his two daughters, Paul refocused his gifts for smart lyrics and catchy melodies to entertain the preschool set, with remarkable results.

Almost every kid loves a good story, and that's what makes the 14-song "Dragonfly Races" special. Sing-along choruses, wide-eyed enthusiasm and kid-sized wordplay seem just a natural part of the fun. So are Paul's colorful ink and watercolor drawings that illustrate the 24-page lyrics booklet. (You can't help but be a little jealous of a guy with that much talent.)

Album opener "Wabi-Sabi" touts the Japanese idea of finding beauty in the imperfect and the transient; people who understand such things, Paul tells us, have "wabi-sabi souls." "Because It's There" romanticizes the human need for exploration -- whether to the stars, the top of Mount Everest or the bottom of the ocean.

On the title track, the clever soundscape includes a raceway announcer's commentary and a crowd's rousing applause -- which, coupled with the music's building excitement, give a sense of immediacy to Dusty the dragonfly's quest to show he's not so lazy after all. "The Bed Song," with its catchy whistling intro and reggae infections, tells of one boy's determination to stay in bed literally all day long. (His dad adds on an engine so the kid can drive around town with his teddy bear in tow.)

Paul has described "The Million Chameleon March" as "a kid's first protest song" -- and in a year when "change" is the political buzzword, no one understands that better than a crowd of Technicolor lizards. The lesson of "Abiola" -- a fable about a king who blames a monster so he can get what he wants -- is that one person (in this case, a little girl) can right an injustice if she chooses. "9 Months to Fix the World" is aimed at parents who want everything to be perfect for their offspring, and it boils down 6,000 years of beliefs to a simple creed: "Love your fellow man."

As you may have guessed, many of these tales contain personal or social morals -- just one more layer that subtly educates kids and maybe sparks some discussions.

Since any good childhood is about the friends you make along the way, Paul recruits some of his own talented pals to lend a hand. Irish musician Flynn, who also produced the CD, guest-stars on "Road Trip," a cross-country catalogue of cool places from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Old Opry and the Everglades. Protégé Antje Duvekot co-writes and duets on "Abiola," and fellow Boston folk star Vance Gilbert adds his distinctive tenor to "Chameleon." Darryl Purpose sings and contributes to "I Lost a Day to the Rain" (an ode to the historical highs and lows of getting caught in a downpour), and Paul's wife, Sharon Teeler, helps out with lyrics on a couple of tunes.

The final track brings the project full circle: Paul and elder daughter Ella do an impromptu duet of "You Are My Sunshine" -- with Ella arguing that skies are blue, not gray. It's a cute moment that kids and parents can appreciate together, just like this CD.

updated: 10 years ago