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Ellis Paul

Charlottesville Daily Progress

The Dragonfly Races

Charlottesville Daily Progress

Friday, January 4, 2008

by Jane Dunlap Norris

Ellis Paul's off to the races with a family CD 'Dragonfly Races' zooms to new genre

Some folks scoff at resolutions. Others come up with a great idea in January and then find a way to make it happen.

Folk singer and songwriter Ellis Paul will release his first CD of family-oriented music, "The Dragonfly Races,'' on Tuesday.
"The genesis of this was the birth of my daughter in January,'' Paul said of Sofi, who's almost 1. "I wanted to put together a children's record.''
Big sister Ella, who's 3, already is a big fan of "The Dragonfly Races.''
"She loves it. She runs around and sings all the songs,'' Paul said. "It's a pretty heady record in a way for a 3-year-old. It's something she can grow into and love.''

Creating something for little listeners to grow into was an important part of the process. The melodies may win over the youngest children, but as they grow and their worlds start to expand, Paul's socially conscious lyrics can give them new ideas to think about.
Some of the tunes give children the chance to be the heroes, such as "Abiola,'' in which a little girl is the one who best understands how to treat a misunderstood monster who has been unfairly accused of wreaking all kinds of mischief in her town.

Others, such as "Million Chameleon March,'' call on friends from the animal realm to help impart ideals, such as the importance of speaking out when things need to change. (Think of it as a protest song for preschoolers.)

Still others use music as a way to teach complex concepts that might be easier for children to grasp than they might appear on the surface.
"Wabi-Sabi,'' which takes its name from a Japanese concept of beauty and fragility, explains how things don't have to be right-out-of-the-box shiny to be valuable and lovely and offers a new way of looking at familiar things in our midst.

Tempos run the gamut from lullaby tunes to bluesy swing, and there's even a barbershop homage ("The Little Red Rose") with a theme of cultivating peace in the mix. Other songs on the album will resonate with parents, including "9 Months to Fix This World.''
The song has been received warmly at Paul's performances for a while now, and "The Dragonfly Races'' gave it a safe place to land on a CD.
And here's another reason to listen to the collection all the way through - there's a hidden track in which Ella and her dad have an entertaining exchange.

"In every folk singer's job description, there's something in there about writing for your family,'' Paul said.
"I'm just going to keep on writing and writing and writing for children and adults,'' Paul said.

Let's hope he keeps drawing, too.
Paul created more than just the 12 tracks on the album. He also put his illustration talents to work for the project, filling a 24-page picture book with cheerful images of children, fantasy creatures and, of course, Dusty the daredevil dragonfly from the title track and cover.
"Doing the artwork was just a thrill that I really loved,'' Paul said.  "That was kind of an experiment for me. I've drawn all my life, but I've never put the two together.''

Paul, a native of Maine who spent enough time in Boston to track up 13 Boston Music Awards, has lived in Charlottesville with his family for about two years now.  He was a popular member of the Boston songwriter scene at a time when its creative energy was capturing national attention in the 1990s.

Film fans heard his work when they caught screenings of "Shallow Hal,'' "Me, Myself and Irene'' and other films.
Folk luminaries were listening, too. Nora Guthrie invited Paul to write the music for "God's Promise,'' a song for which her father, Woody Guthrie, had left unfinished lyrics. (Fans can hear Paul's version on his "The Speed of Trees'' CD.)

That brought Paul membership in a select community of musicians that included Jeff Tweedy and Billy Bragg, who created two "Mermaid Avenue'' CDs around Guthrie's lyrics, and Slaid Cleaves, who penned the music for "This Morning I Am Born Again.''

Paul will continue writing thoughtful music for grownups to enjoy, but don't be surprised if there's another collection for children one of these days. "I just wanted something that would stick with the kids,'' he said.

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