Song of the Day, March 28: Live In the Now by Ellis Paul

EllisPLiveNowToday’s song is a hopeful moment in a series of darker reflections. Ellis Paul’s fourth commercial release, Translucent Soul, is a wonderful collection of songs merging the personal and the universal with his finest touch. Informed by his recent divorce, many of the songs look at heavier themes of loss and pain. For this mid-point to the proceedings, however, he takes things a different direction.

A series of reflections from the road, he takes his touring observations and notes how similar different lives can be. It’s a simple conceit, may wonderful by Paul’s careful storytelling. He ties the threads together with a central observation — each moment has something to offer, so make the most of it. Delicate and charming, it’s a fresh breeze of song that helps hold the album together.

Enjoy this lovely meditation today.

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Song of the Day, July 7: Did Galileo Pray? by Ellis Paul

PaulLiveGalilleoToday’s song is a long-time staple of Ellis Paul’s wonderful live shows. Paul is a master of the observational song and loves to create though-provoking situations. On Did Galileo Pray?, he ponders the intersections of faith and knowledge. Reflecting on Galileo’s treatment by the church for simply furthering scientific knowledge, he notes the challenge of the scientist’s personal faith. It’s a smart look at the complexities of human behavior and a nice analysis of the variety of ways in which we believe.

Over a simple but compelling tune, Paul offers an almost whispered vocal, creating a sense of reverence and reflection. It’s a standout in his stellar catalog, captured on his album Live.

He’s a fine performer, bantering with the audience and offering stories to go with his songs. Enjoy this live performance, featuring an ironic tale of scientific intolerance.

Song of the Day, February 11: She Loves A Girl by Ellis Paul

EllisSheLovesToday’s song is She Loves A Girl by Ellis Paul. It appears on his magnificent fourth album, Translucent Soul. Most of the album is an exploration of damaged relationships, drawing on Paul’s recent divorce. She Loves A Girl takes a different look at the subject. Rather than dissecting a doomed romance, Paul crafts a brilliant, tragic look at how a family can detonate. When the title character comes out to her parents, she is ostracized. Other family members including the person to whom the song is addressed, must figure out what love and family really mean. By focusing on one of the straight relatives, Paul smartly removes any sense of blame from the woman who just wants to live — and love — honestly. It’s a nice construction and a powerful moment of effective lyrical compassion from a straight ally. Paul’s down-to-earth delivery anchors the lyrical themes nicely, and the folk-pop setting is  perfect for the emotional resonance.

Enjoy this lovingly crafted song today.

Album of the Week, December 7: Translucent Soul by Ellis Paul

TranslucentSoulEllis Paul was born in Aroostook County, Maine in 1965; he attended Presque Isle High School, where he played trumpet and excelled in track. He attended Boston college on a track scholarship; sidelined by a knee injury, he picked up an acoustic guitar and found the creative outlet he’d been looking for. Inspired by the folk traditions of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he also developed a distinctive modern romantic folk sound — building on the work of James Taylor and Joni Michell — that helped pioneer the folk revival of the 90s. He became a fixture of Boston coffee houses, winning local awards and developing his sound. After two solid, self-released cassettes, he signed with Black Wolf records, releasing Say Something — produced by mentor and regional folk legend Bill Morrissey. The disc received critical acclaim and more local awards, setting the stage for two more powerful albums of reflective, compelling folk. Working with drummer and producer Jerry Marotta, he explored more complex sounds, perfecting a unique style of earthy, urbane folk based on glimpses of the lives of ordinary people. In 1998 he turned his gaze inward a bit, exploring the pain of his recent divorce and the relationships that gave him strength. Newly signed to Rounder, he entered the studio with Marotta and crafted his masterpiece.

Title Translucent Soul
Act Ellis Paul
Label Philo Release Date September 15, 1998
Producer Jerry Marotta
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Take Me Down
  2. I’m the One to Save
  3. Seven
  4. She Loves A Girl
  5. Bring Me Backwards
  6. Did I Ever Know You?
  7. Live In the Now
  8. The World Ain’t Slowing Down
  9. Angel In Manhattan
  10. I Won’t Cry Over You
  11. Translucent Soul

Translucent Soul strikes the perfect balance between the introspective and the universal. Its starkly — often painfully — personal songs avoid self-indulgence, offering universal themes through individual stories. Paul also broadens his storyscapes, challenging himself in beautiful, rewarding ways. He kicks off with the aching, plaintive Take Me Down, a plea for the comfort and support of home during dark times. With an almost ethereal vocal unlike his usual powerhouse delivery, he creates the perfect opening touchstone for his exploration of pain and love.

I’m the One to Save is a dark story song, dropping the listener into a series of conversations in a decaying relationship. The chorus is a potent cry for help and attention as the commitment to care seeps out of the romance. From there Paul moves into the album’s most starkly personal song. Seven is the moment of realization as the singer’s experiences collide into a moment of hopeless clarity. Aching, soaring, and cathartic, it’s one of his finest songs and wraps up the album’s opening triptych nicely.

The personal narratives take a brief break for the haunting She Loves A Girl, a well-crafted song of love, rejection, honesty, and acceptance. Deftly crafted and perfectly executed, it’s a fine LGBT love song by a compassionate ally.

Bring Me Backwards uses story slices and courtroom imagery to bring back the personal narrative. Quietly harrowing, the song finds Paul trying to reconcile his life, yearning for lost times. As a painful remedy to such wishes, Did I Ever Know You? is a splash of cold realism, recognizing that idealizing the past ignores the pains and problems. With moving, almost whispered questions, it propels the narrative of separation. Live In the Now merges these approaches with a series of flashbacks balanced by a look at the musician’s life on the road. Choosing to take strength from the small joys of his current situation, Paul crafts a lovely personal anthem and one of the album’s most hopeful moments.

Things swirl into action with The World Ain’t Slowing Down, a driving rock track that recognizes the forces beyond our control. Even with the strongest determination to celebrate life, those forces can overwhelm. It features some of his finest lyrics, switching from casual banter to abrupt sideswipes, underscoring the song’s message. Angel In Manhattan provides another break in the narrative. A charming allegory about belief and the power of hope, it’s  a witty, engaging song that shows off an unexpected non-literal side of Paul’s songbook. With I Won’t Cry Over You, he performs another bit of lyrical sleight-of-hand. The story of a frustrated woman realizing that she needs to move on from a stalled relationship, it’s a great narrative that also serves as a hopeful coda to his personal journey.Claiming his power by writing a song makes the personal declaration more universal and provides a safe distance for the singer to ease into his determination.

Things wrap up with the lovely title track, a meditation on the differences that bind us. A very personal reflection on his friendship with African-American folk singer Vance Gilbert, it’s a touching song of hope amidst the practical realities of modern life. Realistic and optimistic at once, Paul avoids cliché and saccharine with his heartfelt exploration of his own experience. After a thoughtful exploration of how relationships can go awry — and how to deal with life when they do — this look at the strength of personal connections is the perfect wrap-up, demonstrating Ellis Paul’s fundamental faith in humanity while tying together all the threads of his powerful songs.

FURTHER LISTENING: Ellis Paul is a powerful, challenging singer and songwriter who tells honest stories. All of his albums offer wonderful performances featuring his ringing vocals and musical skill. His first three professionally recorded discs, setting the stage for Translucent Soul, are all amazing. Say Something and Carnival of Voices are consistent, compelling sets; Stories is a bit more uneven but has much more powerful highs. American Jukebox Fables from 2005 has a slicker, more rock-oriented sound that works surprisingly well. The Day After Everything Changed is a loosely thematic disc based on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the finest of his more recent albums. Paul and Gilbert teamed up on Side of the Road, a set of covers that shows off the pair’s eclectic tastes and unique talents nicely while also showcasing their friendship and collaborative spirit. Essentials is a great two-disc compilation from 2006 that provides a solid overview of the first two decades of Paul’s beautiful musical journey.

Song of the Day, July 31: What Do I Want, What Do I Need by Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert

PaulGilbertSideToday’s song is What Do I Want, What Do I Need. It was written by Missouri native Jeff Black, who included it on his 1998 debut album, Birmingham Road. It’s a powerful song of determination and independence, showing off the best Americana grit that late 20th Century folk has to offer.

Folk singers Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert were both fans of Black’s work. Close friends who have name-checked each other on their recordings, they decided to record an album together in 2003. Rather than trying to balance or blend their own fine writing skills, they opted to record a dozen songs by other writers and singers whose work they admired. The result is a stunning set of tracks, lovingly interpreted, and the highlight is this cover of Black’s song.

Enjoy this great track today.

Song of the Day, February 10: Translucent Soul by Ellis Paul

TranslucentSoulToday’s song is Translucent Soul, the lovely title track from Ellis Paul’s fourth album. It’s a tribute to our shared humanity, represented in the song by Paul’s longstanding friendship with African American folk singer Vance Gilbert. He presents a conversation between the two, noting the racial tension that sadly still exists in this country. They celebrate their personal bond and the way it transcends that challenge. Paul walks a fine line, noting that one-on-one familiarity can make a difference while not neglecting the broader social issues. It’s a beautifully crafted, well-balanced song and a wonderful tribute to the power of friendship.

There isn’t a thing
in this God-all-mighty world that I wouldn’t do
to help him outta trouble
Seein’ as how we’re friends and
that goes deeper than skin can go
to a translucent soul
Deeper than color will show
translucent soul

Enjoy this lovely song today.

Song of the Day, May 29: Take Me Down by Ellis Paul

EllisTakeMeToday’s song is Take Me Down by Ellis Paul, one of the standout tracks from his masterpiece, Translucent Soul. Like most of the disc, it’s a deeply personal reflection, this time on isolation. Framed in a familiar musician-on-the-road conceit, Paul notes the similarities of small towns everywhere and the eerie disconnection that can cause. His quiet, sweet delivery raises the song above the potential cliché, and his observations are keenly crafted.

As he hits the chorus, he hands the listener an unexpected curve. Where most road songs are sung to a faithful lover left at home, Paul uses the distance to analyze the disintegration of his relationship. While yearning for home, he wonders just how well he truly understands it. The result is powerful, creating one of his finest moments. He won his ninth Boston music award for this song, garnering the Best Singer/Songwriter of 1999.

Take me down
to where I’m whole
Where everybody knows me
deep as a soul can go
If you take me down
I gotta know
Did you really know me,
deeply,
as a soul can go?

Enjoy this potent meditation today.

Song of the Day, March 11: Last At the Table by Ellis Paul

EllisPStoriesTableToday’s song is Last At the Table by Ellis Paul; it appears on his 1994 album Stories. It’s an aptly named disc, reflecting the very narrative and character-driven nature of Paul’s songs. This particular track draws on other folk traditions as well, especially his reverence for the social traditions of Woody Guthrie.

It’s told from the perspective of an anonymous down-and-out person wondering why the American dream isn’t working. Directed at various authority figures, the singer questions why the help they pledge to offer isn’t enough to take care of everyone in such a wealthy nation.

I’m the one who’s last at the table,
I’m the one who never gets the gold.
You’re the one who says I’m able,
But you turn your words with lies and fables

Enjoy this potent song today.

Song of the Day, January 14: The World Ain’t Slowing Down by Ellis Paul

PaulWorldToday’s song is The World Ain’t Slowing Down by Ellis Paul. It was originally included on his masterpiece, 1998’s Translucent Soul. Paul — who is highly decorated and respected in folk circles — received unexpected national recognition when the song was chosen as the theme for the Jim Carrey film Me Myself and Irene in 2000.

Translucent Soul is a powerful exploration of human connections. Paul explores relationships of all sorts, and this song bridges the personal and the universal. It celebrates a two-person relationship in the larger context of making one’s way in a chaotic world. The singer pulls out all the stops, delivering one of his finest vocals. Despite the darkness around the edges, joy and hope resonate throughout the song.

You gotta get gone, you gotta get going
Hey, the world ain’t slowing down for no one
It’s a carnival calling out to you
It sounds like a song,
Hits you like scripture
You paint the picture
With colors squeezed from your hand
Weren’t you the kid
Who just climbed on the merry-go-round
Hey look, the world ain’t slowing down

Today is Ellis Paul’s 48th birthday. Enjoy this delightful song and wish him many happy returns.

Song of the Day, November 26: Conversation With A Ghost by Ellis Paul

Today’s song is conversation With A Ghost by Ellis Paul. After building his reputation with stellar live shows in Boston-area coffeehouses — including selling two cassette-only song collections at his shows — Paul settled down to record his debut album, Say Something in 1993. It’s a quietly star-studded event, produced by Bill Morrissey and featuring a number of singers and musicians he worked with around Boston. It’s also a powerful debut, showcasing his great (and frequently award-winning) talents as a songwriter and singer.

One of the highlights is the mournful conversation A Ghost, a wistful song of remembrance and loss. The delightful Patty Griffin provides perfect harmonies with the chorus, adding to the haunting texture of the song.

So how have you been? Have you been to the races? Did you take my mother —
Is your sister in braces? I wish I could’ve been there to see you through
Hey, are all those things you told me once still true?

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

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