Friday, October 24, 2014

Ellis Paul: “Chasing Beauty” (2014) CD Review

Ellis Paul has long been one of my favorite singers and favorite songwriters, ever since I first saw him perform in the late 1980s. I would put his songwriting up there with that of Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson. He’s that good. And he proves it over and over, with each new album. His newest release, Chasing Beauty, is a great collection of songs, with a lot of energy.

There has always been a pop influence to his approach, and that influence is really apparent on this album. Listen, for example, to “Wasted,” particularly the way the banjo works with the keyboard. And this CD has a full sound. That being said, there are also a couple of tracks that are just Ellis on vocals and acoustic guitar. And what a voice. There is no one else who sings quite the way he does, and that voice is definitely part of his draw.

On this new album he’s joined on vocals by the group Red Molly for several tracks. This CD contains a booklet with the lyrics and with some wonderful original artwork by Ellis Paul. He also did the art for the CD’s cover.

Chasing Beauty opens with “Never Want To Lose You,” an energetic and bright song featuring some really nice vocal work from Ellis (and from the women of Red Molly, who back him on this track). Kristian Bush adds quite a lot to this track as well, playing mandolin, banjo and electric guitar. But I also love the moment toward the end when the song breaks down to focus on Ellis Paul’s voice as he sings, “I don’t want to lose you.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You don’t even know me/If you think I give up easily/I don’t want to lose you/I never want to lose you/Though I’ve been doing my damnedest/To make you think/I’m no good at this.” And the image that really stood out the first time I saw him perform this song is “a one man clown car.”

Kristian Bush’s banjo is much more prominent on “Wasted,” giving this song a delightful and unusual sound, and making it one of the stand-out tracks. And I like the double-use of the word “lie” in these lines: “Was I lied to?/Was I lying to myself?/Now I’m lying wide awake/I wanted to run to you/So my eyes could see your face/Someone’s lying in my place.”

Johnny Cash is a big influence on Ellis, and Ellis has referred to the Man in Black in a few songs over the years. “Kick Out The Lights” is one he’s been performing in concert for a while now, one with audience participation, and here it finally gets an official release. This is a lively rendition, and I love it. The electric guitar might surprise some folks, but it totally works. Red Molly does the “Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash” part in this version.

“Waiting On A Break” is an incredible and very moving song about a musician, co-written by Adam Ezra. “When I come off the stage/They’ll have to carry me away/On a fanfare parade/Till the dream is over.” This song is so beautiful, his voice so strong, so vibrant, so full of emotion.

I am a huge Red Sox fan, so it was inevitable I’d love “UK Girl (Boston Calling),” a fantastic tune about the greatest team in the greatest sport. Ellis lived in Boston for a long time, and he’s sung the National Anthem at Fenway Park, so his ties to the team are strong. “UK Girl (Boston Calling)” opens with these lines: “Pick up London/Boston’s calling/I’m crossing the Charles/The Citgo’s shining/Passing by Fenway.” For those poor souls who have never been to Fenway Park, I should note that there is a Citgo sign visible from inside the park. It’s so strongly associated with the park that it remains long after the original gas station left. “UK Girl (Boston Calling)” was written by Ellis Paul, Kristian Bush and Radoslav Lorkovic.  “And no, we are not all Yankees/We are the Red Sox/It’s called baseball.”

Ellis really has fun with “Love Is A Curious Thing.” Listen to the way he sings “a fool” in the line “makes a fool just sing.” Plus, there are horns. Rebecca Loebe supplies some nice additional vocals on this track. And there is some good work on keys by Brandon Bush. This song in some ways feels like new territory for Ellis Paul, and it’s wonderful.

He follows that with one which will have a much more familiar feel to Ellis Paul fans, a song titled “Hold Me, Scold Me.” This is one of the tracks where he performs solo – vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s a sweet song, and yet another highlight for me. “I’ll never stop time/But you’ll always be mine.”

“Chasing Beauty,” the CD’s title track, is one that Ellis Paul has been performing in concert for a while. Molly Venter, Abbie Gardner and Laurie MacAllister (of Red Molly) perform vocals on this track, and yes, it’s a beautiful song. Check out these lines: “You said,/‘Every dream/that could cross our lips/lies just beyond/our fingertips’/I caught some/Some I let slip/right through my fingers.”

“Rose In A Cage” is a lively song with a Romeo And Juliet story, where “Juliet” is rhymed with “Corvette” in the lines “Kiss me kill me/Sweet Juliet/A runaway bride/In a red corvette.” “Rose In A Cage” was co-written by Kristian Bush, who plays electric guitar, and who also co-produced the album.

The album concludes with a solo acoustic tune, “One Kiss Could Do Me In,” which was co-written by Laurie McAllister of Red Molly. It opens with a bit of spoken word, which takes me way back to the very early “Just The Jester Fool.” You’ll know what I mean when you hear this. This has kind of an intimate and immediate feel, like he’s playing directly to you in your room. I love these lines: “You step/From the shadow to the light/And I surrender Friday night/My lips are drunk/And can't be trusted.”

CD Track List

  1. Never Want To Lose You
  2. Wasted
  3. Kick Out The Lights (Johnny Cash)
  4. Drive-In Movie
  5. Waiting On A Break
  6. UK Girl (Boston Calling)
  7. Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus
  8. Love Is A Curious Thing
  9. Hold Me, Scold Me
  10. Empire State
  11. Chasing Beauty
  12. Plastic Soldiers
  13. Rose In A Cage
  14. One Kiss Could Do Me In

Chasing Beauty is one of my favorite albums of the year. It was released on Black Wolf Records.

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