A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By David M. Schultz
In the liner notes, Ellis Paul describes the "crowd of mismatched people inside my head" that comprise the different characters who appear on his latest Philo album, A CARNIVAL OF VOICES. In this way, it brings to mind his last album, "Stories", a collection of songs, nay, more like short stories, about characters in different roles and places in life. Once again, Ellis' masterful story-telling skills are showcased in the 12 new songs on "Carnival".
Internet fans will recognize Ellis as receiving always-glowing reviews on various folk discussion groups. Also, folk festival attendees voted Ellis Paul one of Falcon Ridge's Most Wanted from the 1994 Showcase.
The album is tastefully produced by Jerry Marotta and features support by Duke Levine, Patty Griffin, Jennifer Kimball, and Tony Levin, among others. The songs on "Carnival" tell the stories of different individuals including the story of two time-pressed tourists who are immediately recognized by their more casual French in "Paris in a Day". In "All My Heroes Were Junkies", Ellis relates the story of Tony, a druggie in a hospital bed, who spins his tales of doing shots with The Doors. He says, "all my heroes were junkies, now all my heroes are dead." "Trolley Car" describes the narrator's attempt to reach his lover during an unpredicted Boston snowstorm.
"Carnival" also boasts one of the best songs so far this year: the catchy, sing-along-tune "Never Lived At All". This upbeat song describes how three different people deal with their unrealized dreams in different ways. Dave, a corporate lawyer, spent so much time on his career that he "never lived at all". Becky dreamt of being a concert pianist, but a family and four children got in the way. Peter tried to get his novel published, but even after repeated rejection, still keeps "kiss[ing] the seal of each envelope".
The one distracting aspect of "Carnival" is placing the final song "Ghosts" as an unlabelled bonus track at the end of a reprise chorus of the opener "Midnight Strikes Too Soon". This hauntingly sparse track, featuring only Ellis and his guitar, is simply too strong and depressing a song to close the album. This, the only obvious flaw in the album, does not overshadow the rest of this excellent work. "Carnival" is recommended for people who like good story-telling songs reminiscent of Ellis' mentor Bill Morrissey.
A CARNIVAL OF VOICES (PH 1191) is Ellis Paul's second compact disc on
Philo. Both "Stories" and A CARNIVAL OF VOICES can be ordered from Rounder
Records Corp., 1-800-44-DISCS, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Ellis's email address
is EllisPaul@aol.com and his homepage can be found at
[Edited by: Paula Gregorowicz]
Copyright by Three Rivers Folklife Society, 1996.
This review may be reprinted by prior permission.