Some artists document their lives through their music. Others chronicle their times. It’s a rare artist who can do both, telling their own story through songs that also encapsulate the essence of people and places who have helped define their era overall. Woody Guthrie comes to mind, and so does Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen certainly does, as well.
Ellis Paul is one of those gifted singer/songwriters. Though some may refer to him as a folksinger, he is more, for lack of a better word, a singular storyteller, a musician whose words reach out from inside and yet also express the feelings, thoughts and sensibilities that most people can relate to in one way or another, regardless of age or upbringing.
These are the scenarios that emerge from Ellis Paul’s new album, Chasing Beauty, a set of songs which detail, in typical Paul fashion, stories of people and places that reflect larger truths about us all. “Kick Out the Lights” (Johnny Cash) pays tribute to that fearless American icon name-checked in its title. “Plastic Soldier” offers homage to a wounded soldier returning from Afghanistan. A real-life barnstorming pilot takes the spotlight in “Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus,” while iconic Boston blue-collar musician Dennis Brennan takes the focus in “Waiting on a Break.” Even the Empire State Building and the Boston Red Sox get their due, via “Empire State” and “UK Girl” (Boston Calling), respectively.
In reality, these stories are a continuation of tales Paul has told for more than a quarter century, over the expanse of nineteen albums, numerous critical kudos (15 Boston Music Awards alone), inclusion in several movie soundtracks, and stages he’s headlined both near and far. He has performed at carnegie hall in NYC, the Kennedy Center in Washington,DC, and clubs, festivals and coffeehouses all over the world. “I’ve got a car with over 475,000 miles on it, and it’s my third road vehicle,” Paul declares. “I’ve been doing 200 shows a year for over twenty years. There isn’t a town in the country where I won’t find a friend. I’m a nomad. And I’m gonna write and play until I’m gone.”
He’s an observer, a philosopher, and an astute storyteller who shares with his listeners the life lessons he’s learned and, in turn, life lessons they ought to heed as well. By affirming and defining who he is, Ellis Paul affirms and uncovers the essence of us all.