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Ellis Paul

Ellis Paul warms Norman Performing Arts crowd at Depot

Performance Review

The Norman Transcript

Friday, December 21, 2007

by Doug Hill

Ellis Paul is the kind of singer/songwriter who inspires repeat listeners. One woman in the audience for his Dec. 9 performance in Norman was seeing him for the 200th time. The Performing Arts Studio show at the Santa Fe Depot was sold- out and it seemed that everyone present had been to a previous Ellis Paul concert. This included a couple from Edmond who had once driven to Colorado for a show. Lauren Lee and her family had braved an ice storm traveling from Holdenville that evening and were there for sound check an hour before the performance. Lee exchanged greetings with Paul. She'd contacted him via MySpace with information about her own band, Liberty Road. Not a bad idea since Paul is known for mentoring young musicians such as Antje Duvekot.

Earlier Paul had talked about Duvekot and also Bill Morrissey, the New Hampshire singer/songwriter who has been his own mentor. "Antje is a brilliant songwriter and has a beautiful voice. She opened for me all across the country for a year. I've shown her the ropes and more leading by example than lecturing. She has performed in Norman in the past and will be returning in 2008 for another show at the Depot," he said. Duvekot makes a guest appearance on Paul's new CD "The Dragonfly Races" (Black Wolf Records) and indeed her voice is a lilting joy. Paul also teaches music at various locations around the U.S. When asked what work he'd have done if not a musician, Paul was quick with a response. "I'd have become a carny, probably the assistant to the bearded lady. I'd dress in a tutu and tell dirty jokes," he replied. Paul would already be used to life on the road for that job. Based in Boston he has worked the folk club circuit for years. He's particularly well known to Oklahoma audiences because of his regular appearances at the annual Woody Guthrie festival in Okemah. Paul has also played Oklahoma City's Blue Door on many occasions. Paul has even been selected by the Guthrie family to compose tunes for some of the many songs Woody had not set to music.

Paul admitted there is one place he won't travel to for performances anymore. "I once played the Avondale Nudist Colony festival in Paw Paw, West Virginia. Clothing was optional. I knew what I was getting into, but that's one I won't be going back to." Fully-clothed, Radoslav Lorkovic, Paul's guest keyboardist arrived and they departed to check sound.

Ellis Paul began his show solo at the keyboard, singing a song about a girl, a Buick back seat and a dad asking what the movie was about. Paul has a theatrical voice that travels easily from whisper to soaring volume. It's a vibrating marvel of a voice that defies comparison to anyone else. Maybe Burl Ives meets Bruce Springsteen. Paul's projection was strong even while fighting a cold and with a Hall's in his mouth. He apologized, afraid he'd send the cough drop flying during a high note. Picking up a guitar he introduced Lorkovic who took the keys. They played "Little Wood Guitar" which has become a big electric instrument for Paul. Sugarland covered it in a Christmas EP available at Wal Mart. It's a stunningly beautiful and autobiographical song. A little wood guitar Christmas gift helped change his life and has touched many others. Lorkovic, who has played with the likes of Odetta recently, was working the keys like a young Leon Russell. They did "Alice's Champagne Palace" that memorializes an actual joint in Homer, Alaska. "If you're runnin' away/ you just might stay," he sang. "Juke Box on My Grave" proposes a machine instead of a headstone. You can't help but imagine who would be in your own. Toots and the Maytals, Percy Sledge, the Donnas and Billy Joe Shaver for sure. Paul and Lorkovic, switching to accordion, moved off stage to the middle of the room and played acoustically. This was an amazing part of the show that felt spontaneous and intimate, like traveling troubadours lighting up a European pub. After performing several Guthrie tunes arranged unconventionally, they closed with a song Paul co-wrote with Don Conscenti. It's a bawdy work in progress called "Calendar Man" with new verses composed impulsively for the world's holidays. "On Bastille Day/ I'll storm your fortress," etc. It was the charming kind of show that would make you come back for more.

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