Album Review

Ellis Paul - Chasing Beauty

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Paeans to love, parenting and historical episodes merge in Paul’s 19th album

Recorded mainly in Decatur, Ga.’s The Projector Room, with additions sourced in Ellis’ adopted Virginia hometown, Charlottesville, and the Mainer’s long-time previous base of Boston, Chasing Beauty has been almost two years in the making. It was produced by the Bush brothers, Kristian of Grammy-award winning duo Sugarland and Brandon formerly of the San Francisco based band Train and now a Sugarland alumni. Paul’s sophomore fan funded collection, follows in the wake of the similarly financed Nashville cut recording The Day After Everything Changed (2010). Ellis (acoustic guitar, vocals) is supported here by Kristian (acoustic/electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass), Brandon (keyboards), Sugarland’s Travis McNabb (drums), plus Gray Griggs (bass) and Megan Lovell (lap steel), with lesser input from Tim Smith (bass), Ben Torres (trombone), Michael Snell (trumpet) and Brandyn Taylor (baritone sax). Rebecca Loebe supplies one backing vocal, while Red Molly harmonize on a handful.   

A strident backbeat propels “More Never Want To Lose You,” the love themed song that launches Paul’s nineteenth career release. A fifteen-second (long) banjo solo introduces the “You can’t drink away your sorrows” themed “Wasted,” while Red Molly furnish the addictive, repeating girlie chorus on the ensuing “Kick Out The Lights (Johnny Cash).” Another of Ellis’ accomplished character studies, the latter recalls the early October 1965 evening during which, stoned and fractious, Big John smashed the floor lights on the Grand Ole Opry stage with a microphone stand. Ellis aired the song, supported chorally by the audience with righteous piano playing from Seth Glier, during the 2012 Kerrville Folk Festival. Co-written by Ellis, the Bush boys, and Nashville based husband/wife duo Dave and Julia Carlson, “Drive In Movie” explores a 20th century American phenomenon that has pretty much disappeared. A collaboration with up-and-coming Boston troubadour Adam Ezra, the lyric to “Waiting On A Break” focuses on that ‘regularly dreamed of’ moment when a performing musician can say goodbye to the 9 to 5 day job.

Kristian, Ellis and his buddy Radoslav Lorkovic penned “UK Girl (Boston Calling)” a paean to transatlantic love and baseball. As a fictional piece name-checking the Boston Red Sox with Liverpool, instead of London, would have possessed a certain double-edged subtlety. At the outset of “Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus,” a concoction from Paul and the Bush boys, circa 1920 we glimpse a real-life aviation pioneer flying over an Ohio cornfield. Toward the close, while Venezuela isn’t named, there’s allusion to the ‘river of gold’ and Angel Falls – known events in the action-packed life of Jimmie Angel. Featuring Loebe, the soulful and funky “Love Is A Curious Thing” is a song from a dad to his daughters, and while “Hold Me, Scold Me” sounds as if it’s a 1960’s pop tune it shares the same parental inspiration. Structural snapshots from history, circa 1929/1931 through 2001, permeate “Empire State” co-written with occasional sideman Michael R. Clem.

Red Molly support on “Chasing Beauty,” while “Plastic Soldiers” was penned Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts raised Glier, who included it on his fifth outing Things I Should Let You Know (2013). In the latter the narrator recalls an innocent, pre-teen childhood game - “grass stains not scars”; and ten years on with steel and silicon legs, the result of a shrapnel injury sustained in combat, he optimistically attests “I will not be a prisoner of war.” Ellis and Kristian penned the Romeo & Juliet themed “Rose In A Cage.” As with “Hold Me, Scold Me,” Ellis is the sole musical contributor to the boy/girl themed “One Kiss Could Do Me In.” Co-written with Red Molly’s Laurie MacAllister it closes this collection.

Discounting his kid’s music releases and Xmas album, Paul’s lyrics remain potent, intriguing and engaging. While professionally recorded, sonically, Paul’s recent adult albums have possessed a cloned rock ‘n’ roll gloss. How about reassessing your acoustic folk roots, with songs solely composed by Ellis Paul? and

Brought to you from the desk of the Folk Villager.

Photo Credits – all by Folk Villager

01. Ellis Paul smiles, 2012 Kerrville Folk Festival

02. L. to R. Seth Glier and Don Conoscenti rock on “Kick Out The Lights,” 2012 Kerrville Folk Festival.