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Ellis Paul

Ellis Paul brings his beautiful mess to Kingston

Performance Review

The Patriot Ledger

Monday, May 7, 2007

by Jay N. Miller

Review of the show at The Beal House in Kingston, MA - May 4, 2007

Ellis Paul is the consummate acoustic music performer, perhaps because his folk music sounds, as often as not, like stripped-down rock or pop, but more likely because hes such a singular songwriter who delivers his songs with genuine passion every night.

Pauls 90-minute show at the South Shore Folk Music Club on Friday was riveting from start to finish. The 14-song set included some of his old favorites, a couple of duets with opening act/pal Flynn, and two new and unrecorded songs.

Paul, a Maine native who earned a track scholarship to Boston College, originally dove into songwriting and learning the guitar when he was sidelined with a knee injury. By 1989 he was a full-time social worker, living in Jamaica Plain, and turning up at open mikes around New England at night. His literate yet direct and affecting lyrical style, coupled with his soulful tenor quickly got him slots opening for established stars, and before long he had his own record deal.

The five years he worked as a social worker in some of Bostons worst neighborhoods no doubt inform much of Pauls sensibility, and much of his appeal stems from the simple humanity of his songs. There is another Beantown connection: The inveterate baseball fan adopted the stage name Ellis Paul in tribute to his favorite Red Sox star, former centerfielder Ellis Burks.

If the 120 fans at the Beal House were split between longtime fans and those hearing him for the first time, Paul had converted all of them by evenings end.

Paul opened with a pair of new songs, The Day After Everything Changed a midtempo tune that depicted loves ups and downs and the difficulties of staying together. Paul shifted to electric piano - where his facility extends to white keys only, he confided - for the lilting ballad Summertime, where the higher reaches of his voice came into play.

The crowd really began to come alive with the next few songs. The rocking drive of Marias Beautiful Mess, with Paul slashing chiming chords and then adding delicate single-note filigrees, provided ample dynamic power. Alices Champagne Palace, another rollicking tune, this one about a bar in Alaska where Paul frequently plays, kept the coffeehouse reeling. Pauls fingerpicking skills really gave Jukebox on My Grave, his musical request for a playlist of all his favorites, a delightful tone.

Take All the Sky You Need, from his fine 2005 album American Jukebox Fables, featured an incredibly soaring vocal, almost as if this evocative tune were a folkie opera.

Paul has written music for Woody Guthries unrecorded Gods Promise. His intro about how Guthrie wrote it as his final illness was robbing him of his physical abilities made Pauls gospel-like rendition all the more heartbreaking.

Kiss the Sky (A Song for Pat Tillman) was written based on a letter the singer received from a soldier serving in Iraq, and it has the kind of power only U2 or Bruce Springsteen can bring.

An encore duet with Flynn of Let It Be, with spine-tingling vocals and Flynns late-night bluesy guitar lines, was remarkable.

Flynn, who just finished his fourth album, opened with a lively half-hour set. Flynns baritone was moving on the classic ballad Black Is the Color, and his own lyrics on the jaunty Human, which Cher has recorded, were impressive.

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