Ellis Paul is one of the best-loved and most touted singer/songwriters in contemporary acoustic music. In his nearly twenty-year career, he has produced one recording after another of beautifully written story songs. This is indelible music, from unforgettable anthems like 3,000 Miles, to moving tributes like Conversation With a Ghost, to enthralling stories like Angel in Manhattan and rockers like Deliver Me. He has teamed up with everyone from Bill Morrissey and Duke Levine, to Patty Griffin, Vance Gilbert and Catie Curtis. Woody Guthrie has been his muse.
But what we did not know is that all that he has done thus far has been a prelude to his best work, the 2010 release, The Day After Everything Changed. This recording is a turning point for Ellis Paul and for all those who love his music. Kristian Bush, of the country mega-duo Sugarland, acts as both executive producer and co-writer of several of the songs here. The back story to getting the project off the ground is remarkable as well. Paul's fans raised the capital needed to get this recording into the production studio. This says a lot about what one man's music means to a great many people—music critics and fans alike.
The recording opens with a tune that will become one of Paul's most requested songs—Annalee. It reflects the joy of youth with a plate full of possibilities ahead...young lovers reveling in the bounty of nature at the edge of adulthood. It is a high energy tune with a melody that wraps itself around your soul and lifts you up. It is absolutely infectious. Thad Beatty on guitar and banjo plays out the melody, while Jason Collum on drums and percussion drives the beat.
The centerpiece of The Day After Everything Changed is the gorgeously written and performed song of the same title. Musically complex yet wonderfully accessible to the listener, the melody played out on the keyboard guides us in. Paul's voice soars to the highest parts of his register and then crashes into a crescendo of percussion and haunting backing vocals. Paul captures the complications of a relationship that has known the heights of passion, but is cracking and changing, and finally falling apart. The lyrics are some of the best of Paul's career:
I carried home the rush, the crush
Your touch still burning on my skin
I'm falling in where I stop and you begin
Leaves they fall,
A clock is turning on the wall
You can trust
That you'll never be the same
It's the day after everything changed
The Lights of Vegas is an anthem for those who gamble their lives away on the chance that the next win will put them on the path to salvation. It has an incredible energy and a focused musicality. The song begins with the soft hush of Paul's vocal and then gets pumped up by a wall of percussion, ending in a sea of voices. You feel as if you have been on a journey, all in the space of a four and half minute song. It is a beautifully produced work and one of the most memorable songs in a very strong lineup.
Hurricane Angel is one of the best-written songs about the devastation of Katrina on the city of New Orleans, and the individuals suffering in its aftermath. It is mostly Paul accompanied by the talented Matt Stanfield on keys. It is moving, lovely and has heart and guts. It is Ellis Paul at his quintessential best.
Waking Up to Me is a touching love song about the long drive home to the one you love. Paul's picking on guitar adds the perfect personal touch while Antje Duvekot's backing vocal lends the right amount of longing.
Paper Dolls features a poignant duet between Paul and Kristian Bush.
The Paul of the concert stage is the one we hear on the recording's closing tune, Nothing Left to Take, which features Paul and his guitar. It chronicles the breakup of a relationship in minutes and seconds, from the moment she walks out the door to the realization that time is the distance one needs to heal.
Every artist has his or her moment in the sun. If you are lucky, you have several of these moments in your career and you feel confident that you have left something of worth behind. For Ellis Paul this is the time, and this is the moment. His life's work has been the building of a legacy, a catalog of finely tuned story songs that collectively tell the story of our generation. In The Day After Everything Changed he has done the one thing all artists yearn to accomplish. He has told our universal story, and has revealed our universal truths. And he has done so in a masterwork filled with the best music and lyrics of his career. Ellis Paul gives us hope, gives us a reason to dream and to love. His music is the soundtrack of our lives.