Back in 2011, Ellis Paul wrote to his fans that he would be embarking on a project geared toward children, describing some of our great American heroes. He asked, who are your heroes? Who are the great Americans that you look up to? I think hundreds of ideas flooded in. Paul's newest recording, The Hero in You, is the result of these beginnings. It is a labor of love, a year in the making. The fourteen songs in this collection may be for children, but they are also for the adults who love them, and for everyone who has come under the spell of Ellis Paul.
There are some obvious choices here—some of our greatest artists, inventors, writers and thinkers. But some of the less obvious choices provide the best opportunity to educate and entertain us both. Here we find Augustus Jackson, a chef in James Madison's White House kitchen who went on to popularize ice cream, creating a myriad of flavors, and packaging them so that the icy dessert we love today would last for more than a day. He was one of the first African American business men. Paul also introduces us to Mr. Tee Tot, an Alabama blues man from the early 20th century who mentored and influenced artists like Hank Williams. We learn these things from the biographies that Paul has written inside the liner notes.
The accompanying booklet also includes beautifully rendered illustrations, created by Paul for this project.
The Hero in You contains some of the best melodies and most moving lyrics of Paul's career. Chief Joseph is a perfect example of this. Most children in America learn the story of the great chief of the Nez Perce tribe of the Pacific Northwest. He was known for his bravery and wisdom, and one of the most famous quotes in American history, "I will fight no more forever." Opening with Christopher Rowland's lovely Native American flute, the lyrics immediately draw us into his story:
I am a child of the Wallowa Valley in the wilds of Oregon
In the closing chorus, we hear Paul's children sing Chief Joseph's famous words. And in this moment we realize that his legacy has been passed down to yet another generation.
Other songs introduce us to the early American feminist and journalist, Nellie Bly, whose given name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She was the first person to expose the indignities of American mental institutions in the late 19th century by getting herself admitted for ten days and writing about her experience. She gained international fame for her efforts. The song is beautifully produced by Flynn, who provides the percussive sounds of a train at the beginning of the song, reminding us of her travels around the world via steamship and railroad. Paul is joined by the distinctive voice of Antje Duvekot as well as a chorus of children.
The sounds of the forest open a lovely ballad describing the pivotal work of early environmentalist Rachel Carson. Paul's tenor seems to soar above the treetops she so loved. And then mid-song the sound of bulldozers interrupts the beguiling melody. We also hear Flynn's voice echoing each line, and the sound of water in the closing moments. This one is a standout.
Ellis Paul is also known as a poet, delighting audiences over the years with many of the spoken pieces he has written. He delivers a spoken recitation on his take on the genius of Thomas Edison which begins, "Imagine you could ride a thought/Like a train at a station that you've just caught."
In writing and releasing the songs of The Hero in You, Ellis Paul turns our attention to some of the great Americans that can and do influence not only our children, but their parents as well. The songs dig deep, touching the listener with both a meaningful lyric and a vivid melody. You will find yourself humming these tunes when you least expect it. History, music, and learning - it all comes together here. This is a recording you will want in your collection, and one you will turn to again and again. These stories are not just for kids…they are for all of us.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society and Roberta B. Schwartz.
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