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Ellis Paul

Review-Pop Dose


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

by Jeff Giles

I don't know what prompted Ellis Paul to finally team up with his old pal Kristian Bush for an album, but I'm awfully happy they did, because the result — Paul's 16th release, The Day After Everything Changed — is not only his most consistent record in years, it might be his best yet.

I've been a casual fan of Paul's work for the last 15 years, but I've often found that his albums are best taken in small doses. The problem, for me, is Paul's voice, which is beautiful, but not exactly the most versatile instrument you're going to hear in the folk milieu. It's certainly unique, but the things that set it apart — that warmth and pleasantly gruff edge, combined with a thin, sometimes almost keening tone — are the same things that make it hard for Paul to do more than a few things as an artist. He's one of the best storytelling songwriters working in his genre (and he's won the awards to back it up), but his albums tend to run out of gas fairly quickly; he seems to have a hard time figuring out what to do with his songs, and the result is a lot of stereotypically same-y New England folk.

With these 15 songs, however, everything has…uh, changed: Paul and executive producer Bush (who also co-wrote five songs and makes a few vocal cameos) have taken care to surround each track with a different musical palette. Paul raised this album's budget on his own through the good faith (and healthy donations) of fans, and ironically, it's probably his most commercial set of songs, incorporating anthemic choruses ("The Lights of Vegas") and smart, sophisticated production and arrangement touches (listen to the haunting, beautifully burnished title track) alongside more traditional fare ("Dragonfly"). Changed also represents some of the most melodically rich, emotionally resonant work Paul's ever done, giving new listeners, longtime followers, and prodigal fans plenty to love. If you're any kind of folk fan, or just have an appreciation for smart, plainspoken songwriting, seek out this album today.

(As much credit as Paul deserves for having his name in front of such a stellar album, I'd be remiss if I didn't say what a pleasure it is to hear Bush's voice again. Watching him achieve multiplatinum status as the largely silent partner in Sugarland has been gratifying, because it's always a nice surprise to see someone make it big after slugging it out in the trenches as long as Bush did — but it's also been frustrating, because I really miss Bush's partnership with Andrew Hyra in the late, lamented Billy Pilgrim. Until they find their way back together again, or Bush resumes his solo career, I suppose albums like The Day After Everything Changed are a somewhat acceptible substitute.)

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