Ellis Paul
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Ellis Paul

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Band Folk Acoustic

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Jul
09
Ellis Paul @ Black Potatoe Music Festival

Clinton, New Jersey, United States

Clinton, New Jersey, United States

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"Best of 2002 List"

This is Ellis' first 'proper' album since 1998s fantastic 'Translucent Soul' (a collection that four years after its release stands up as one of the very best contemporary singer/songwriter albums around). The intervening years have seen a live album and a collection of lost studio recordings, but this is the one people have been waiting for - and nobody is going to be disappointed.

'The Speed of Trees' is a disc full of powerful but subtle songwriting, instantly strong melodies, and first rate musicians - it's very easy to listen to but has depth at every turn.

The third track 'Eighteen' is the perfect song to pick to highlight Ellis' qualities. It's a fantastic conversational style song about returning to a school reunion and reflecting on childhood, musically it's understated and sophisticated, guitar and mandolin provide the rhythm and detail above a cello backdrop, and there are some strong musical themes, including an excellent Celtic-inspired mandolin break alluding to a character in the story. It's a great song, and is strong both lyrically and musically - the best single track of the year. While 'Eighteen' may be the pick of the disc, the remaining 11 songs are universally excellent, from the upbeat 'Breaking Through the Radio', through to the acoustic title track.

There are some wonderful musicians and performances on show here, standouts are the guitar work from Duke Levine (who also produced the disc), and guest appearances from Lucy Kaplansky and Jennifer Kimball.

This is a collection that is both polished and professional, but everything comes across naturally - it has a wonderful 'casual' feel that makes this a distinct and individual album.

'The Speed of Trees' is an exceptional collection of 12 songs - it's varied, dynamic, and is one of the strongest singer/songwriter discs we've heard. Essential. - Fish Records


"Minor 7th"

Ellis Paul "The Speed of Trees", Philo 1242 , 2002

The blurb on Ellis Paul's last studio album, "Translucent Soul", described it as "intimate." "The Speed of Trees", we're told, has "a new sonic edge." Ellis Paul has brought in producer and multi-instrumentalist Duke Levine, but the changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Some hooks are beefed up, as in the Beatlesque chorus of "Sweet Mistakes". Levine effectively uses familiar instrumental cues: viola for pathos ("If You Break Down"), mandolin for nostalgia ("Eighteen"). There is a whole band sound at times: a Rolling Stones-like arrangement for the touching "Roll Away Bed", a radio single structure for - irony intended - "Breaking Through the Radio". But Paul has given up none of the qualities that have made him a major figure in the world of original folk. He has retained the unique vocal style. Listen to the way he attacks the word tonight in "Eighteen," stratospheric soaring where few venture with such ease. Far from being trimmed to three minute anthems, most songs are expansive, offering plenty of time for Paul's trademark storytelling. In "The Ballad of Chris McCandless," lyrics rich in detail and authentic in empathy - underscored by Levine's atmospheric electric guitar - will surely make you wonder if Paul really did hitchhike with the doomed but resolute subject of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Paul partners with his hero Woody Guthrie, whose image he wears permanently as a tattoo, in the album's highlight, "God's Promise." Having unearthed and edited Woody's music-less take on an old hymn, Paul (and Levine) have placed it in a gorgeous setting. It's poignant Guthrie wisdom and passion expressed in the face of Huntington's Chorea's devastation. Paul has not sacrificed intimacy. The album brims with characters trying on new personas; Paul understands. The final cut, completely stripped down, shows the singer at war with his desire to live at the speed of light while firmly "planted square down on my knees... asking for the speed of trees." The ultimate strength in Ellis Paul's work is compassion for himself and everyone who grapples with choices in a life where things happen to us while we're busy making sweet mistakes. - David Kleiner


"Boston Globe"

Ellis Paul is now a national folk star and to many the quintessential Boston songwriter: literate, provocative, urbanelyromantic." - -


""The Folk Heritage" - WGBH"

Ellis Paul is among the best of the new breed of writers. His images are rich and speak of issues most of us sweep away to another place. His songs speak about real people, the people many of us never see, those in need of understanding...lost people...characters who reflect the polarization of society, a society losing its grip on compassion. - Dick Pleasants


Discography

The Speed of Trees - 2002
Am I Home - (Re-release) 2000
Urban Folksongs - (Re-release) 2000
Live - 1999
Translucent Soul - 1998
Carnival of Voices - 1996
Stories - 1994
Say Something - 1992

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Listen closely to Ellis Paul's new CD The Speed of Trees, to the spaces between the notes, and you can almost hear the sound of roots growing. On his first studio album since 1998's breakthrough Translucent Soul, he sounds like just what he is, an artist at the sure summit of his craft, a certain star who has arrived just where he set out to, artistically, professionally, and personally. It is less a work of becoming than of being.

At 35, Ellis is the star he hoped to be, with a loyal national audience, a string of successful Rounder/Philo records, 12 Boston Music Awards, and more concert work than he can handle. Millions heard his songs in the Farrelly Brothers' films "Me, Myself and Irene" and "Shallow Hal" (Peter Farrelly calls Ellis "a national treasure"). He is regularly heard on folk and non-commercial AAA radio stations, and packs major concert halls and front-rank music clubs wherever he tours.

"There's sort of a 'been-there-done-that' thing going on with me these days, and that's nice," Ellis says. "I'm in a long-term contract with a record company I've been with for many years and I've had the chance to tour, develop, and become an act with a committed fan base. My career is about my fans; all my success has been based on that, and Rounder really understands that."

That settled-in mood permeates The Speed of Trees. It is among his quieter discs, although exquisitely produced by Mary Chapin Carpenter guitarist Duke Levine. It sounds this way not because Ellis is trying to make a statement, but because the songs want breathing room, sweet space to unwind their finely chiseled, deeply human stories. He has richly absorbed the nutrients from his own musical roots, from the pop and folk-rock of Lennon-McCartney and Bob Dylan, and folk songwriters from Woody Guthrie to Bill Morrissey. While his sound has always been entirely his own, he now creates melodies of such organic timelessness that the first time we hear them, we can feel we've known them all our lives.

The rootedness of the CD also comes from Ellis's decision to rely almost entirely on Boston-area musicians, such as Levine and Hammond B-3 whiz Tom West, artists with whom he has performed live, and is likely to tour with again. He wants the CD and his concerts to feel the same way to his fans.

In the four years between Translucent Soul and The Speed of Trees, Ellis has startlingly redesigned his career, no longer aiming upward but outward, toward something more settled and lasting than the fast fizzle-and-fade of today's pop mainstream. He published a book, Notes from the Road, of the vivid, often witty vignettes and ballad poems he shares with his fans on his website. He released a double CD for Rounder/Philo, entitled Live, which offers dynamic proof why he is among the most popular headliners on the folk circuit, and another disc of previously unreleased tracks coyly called Sweet Mistakes.

During that time, he was wooed by big labels, but decided to return to Rounder Records, the largest and most vibrant folk music indie in the country - and the local record company for the man the Boston Globe calls "the quintessential Boston songwriter; literate, provocative, urbanely romantic."

Ellis's lyrics brim with what songwriters call "killer lines," images that immediately invite us inside the songs. "She fell to the mattress/ With the grace of an actress," he opens his portrait of a woman truly unhappy, yet strangely in love with that unhappiness. And who has not felt how Ellis feels, looking at his lover as he whispers, "Your eyes make me humble?"

He can carve lines that are so complete they are songs unto themselves, as in the modern-day beatitude heard in "Shallow Hal." It's all there in the single refrain, "Bless your Sweet Mistakes." In his gift for using the vernacular of his times to create new songs that nestle into our lives like old companions, Ellis wears the mantle of his chief songwriting hero, Woody Guthrie. The Guthrie tattoo he has on his arm has earned so much media attention in recent years that Ellis probably owes it an agent's commission, but the comparisons are real and revealing.

Woody's daughter, Nora Guthrie, is a good friend and fan of Ellis's, and invited him to pour through her father's archive of unpublished songs, from which he brilliantly molded "God's Promise" into a vital modern hymn. At first she resists comparing Ellis and Woody, stressing the uniqueness of each artist; but then said there was a "job description my father left behind, and that Ellis has taken on."

"One of the things that is compulsory about that job plan is individuality," she says, "so the way Ellis is most like Woody is that he is true to himself. Every time I see him, there's a brightness about him, a hopefulness, a liveliness. You never get this feeling of the drudgery of the folk singer's life, which a lot of people write songs about it. And I don't like that; I never heard it in my dad's songs. You wou