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Ellis Paul - American Jukebox Fables

American Jukebox Fables

Ellis Paul

Philo 11671-1246-2

Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Roberta B. Schwartz
(rschwartz@oeb.harvard.edu)

Ellis Paul has been working on the great American songbook since he arrived on the Boston acoustic music scene in the early 1990's. Through a number of recordings he has honed his considerable skills as a moving lyricist - a poet and singer who can often stop you dead in your tracks at the turn of a phrase that describes a feeling or a moment with compelling accuracy.

With American Jukebox Fables, Paul moves into that rarefied territory where names like John Prine, Bill Morrissey and Greg Brown are respected and revered. His stories have become our stories. And in that way he has become the great, contemporary American songwriter.

The recording opens on a distinctly American landscape - the paving of the cornfields of the Midwest, heralding the arrival of the automobile as our favorite mode of transportation. Blacktop Train has a pop-rock groove that will get you up on your feet.

It is hard to pick favorites here - one song is better than the next. This album of songs is like a great novel built from one stunning chapter to the next.

Do you remember the moment when it became clear that you've found the right one - the one true love you have been looking for your whole life? Well, listen to Take All the Sky You Need to refresh your memory. The chorus describes that moment when you choose to give up your freedom for love:
If you want to run,
I'll pack my suitcase
And if you want to stay,
I'll make you a front door key
And if you need space
To fly free,
Take all the sky you need.

Marc Chagall is Ellis Paul's All You Need is Love. He wants to paint the world in the bright colors and whimsical topsy turvy of Marc Chagall when he finds love of hearth and family: "You make me want to believe / love is all I need / all I need." And all you want to do is sing along to this chorus that grabs you with its yearning and sweet melody.

In Jukebox on My Grave Paul wants to be remembered after he's gone by the music he has chosen to fill the jukebox sitting on his gravesite.

One of the recording's best cuts, Home brings all of the hallmarks of Paul's best work together: it tells a story that draws you in; it paints a picture in graceful lyrics and an engaging melody; and it's sung in that distinctive, intimate, warm tenor that is like no one else's. It is a gem of a song.

My favorite song here is She Was. With its simple melody and lyrics, it harks back to some of the early American folk songs, but it is as modern and as true as th…

The recording's production, by rocker extraordinaire Flynn, is impeccable. From the gentle plucking of the piano keys on Home to the punched up rock and handclaps on Bad, Bad Blood, every song is punctuated with just the right instrumentation and arrangement to make it shine.

With the release of American Jukebox Fables, the legend of Ellis Paul is in the making. It is a classic recording, a jewel of a musical treat - a wonderful revelation.

Track List:

  • Blacktop Train
  • Kiss the Sun (A Song for Pat Tillman)
  • Take All the Sky You Need
  • Time (with Sharon Teeler)
  • Goodbye Hollywood
  • Marc Chagall
  • Jukebox on My Grave
  • Alice's Champagne Palace
  • She Was (with Slaid Cleaves and Jeff Plankenhorn)
  • Bad, Bad Blood
  • Mystified (with Jeff Plankenhorn and Eliza Gilkyson)
  • Clarity (with Regie Ashley and Sarah Cardenas)
All songs written by Ellis Paul except where noted.

Edited by: David N. Pyles
(dnpyles@acousticmusic.com)

Copyright 2005, Peterborough Folk Music Society and Roberta B. Schwartz.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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