Some artists document their lives through their music. Others chronicle their times. Its 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 as well. Yet few others, for whatever genius they may possess, can relate their own history to the history experienced by those who find that common bond, be it in a coming of age, living through the same realities or sharing similar experiences.
Ellis Paul is one of those gifted singer/songwriters. Though some may refer to him as a folk singer, 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. The exhilaration of the open road. A celebration of heroes. The hope for redemption. Descriptions of those things that are both near and dear. The sharing of love..., intimate, passionate and enduring.
These are the scenarios that emerge from Ellis Pauls 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 Angels 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 hes headlined both near and far. Ive got a car with over 475,000 miles on it, and it's my third road vehicle, Paul declares. Ive been doing 200 shows a year for over twenty years. There isnt a town in the country where I wont find a friend. Im a nomad. And Im gonna write and play until Im gone.
Vance Gilbert burst onto the singer/songwriter scene in the early 90's when buzz started spreading in the folk clubs of Boston about an ex-multicultural arts teacher who was knocking 'em dead at open mics. Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Vance started out hoping to be a jazz singer, and then discovered his affinity for the storytelling sensibilities of acoustic folk music. Once word got out about Gilbert's stage-owning singing and playing, Shawn Colvin invited him to be special guest on her Fat City Tour. Noted not only for being the ever consummate performer, Gilbert has recorded 12 albums, including 4 for Philo/Rounder Records and a duo album with friend Ellis Paul. Along with being opener of choice for artists as varied as Aretha Franklin, Arlo Guthrie, and Anita Baker, 2006 and 2007 found Gilbert opening 140+ shows for comedian George Carlin. Most recently hes the opener of choice for Paul Reiser and The Subdudes.
Considered by many to be an integral part of the national folk scene, Gilbert's approach to the acoustic singer songwriter idiom is significant. Gilbert's compositions, while frequently employing sophisticated melodies and harmonies that attest to his jazz roots, remain sublime attestations to the storyteller's craft. He even has a tune on a Grammy Nominated childrens album. How rounded is that?
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