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. Ellis Paul is one of those gifted singer-songwriters.
Ellis Paul grew up on a Maine family farm, where he was encouraged to follow his dreams. After college graduation he worked as a teacher and social worker with inner city children by day and pursuing the possibilities offered by Boston’s fertile music scene at night, he gained prominence in local coffeehouses and open mic nights. It was the same circuit that opened the door for other like-minded artists of the day, and in turn, gave Ellis Paul exposure to such creative contemporaries as Shawn Colvin, Dar Williams, Patty Larkin, John Gorka, Catie Curtis, and Bill Morrissey. It also helped him win a Boston Underground Songwriting competition and placement on a Windham Hill Records singer/songwriter compilation, bringing him his first hint of national exposure at the same time.
The major tipping point in his career came with the opportunity to open for Bill Morrissey, one of New England’s most prominent Folk artists. He began to hone his talent, and became interested in the music of Woody Guthrie. Ellis Paul has a sense of roots, of connectedness to the whole history of Folk music; he sees the thread that runs through all the generations of this music.
He’s become a staple at the Newport Folk Festival, played Carnegie hall, and venues from Alaska to Miami, Paris and London. In addition to his 19 albums released on the Rounder and Black Wolf record labels, his music has appeared on dozens of distinguished compilations. A Film/ DVD entitled 3000 Miles — part concert film, part documentary, part instructional video — provides a further prospective on both the man and his music. He’s also released a pair of children’s albums, earning him honors from the Parent’s Choice Foundation for both. His latest, “The Hero In You” has been turned into a picture book, detailing the lives of great American heroes. Ellis Paul’s literate, evocative and insightful writings are further showcased in a book of poetry and short stories entitled Notes from the Road, already in its third pressing.
Ellis Paul’s new album, Chasing Beauty, is 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 Ellis Paul has told for more than a quarter century, over the expanse of nineteen albums, numerous critical kudos, inclusion in several movie soundtracks, and stages he’s headlined both near and far.