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Ellis Paul


Ellis Paul & Slaid Cleaves

August 16, 2003 @ The 2003 Apple & Eve Newport Folk Festival, Newport, RI

It was a Maine-iacs paradise as two of Down East’s favorite sons (and guitarist/dobroist Jeff Plankenhorn) converged on the showcase stage at Newport to share stories and songs of the road. Fresh off a tour that featured tributes to Folk icon Woody Guthrie, the talented pair mixed original numbers with traditional and new musical settings to Guthrie’s immortal words. Paul opened the musical meeting of the Maine men with a sibilant whisper of Mark Erelli’s “The Only Way.” When it was his turn, Cleaves changed the tempo and the tenor of the set with the twangy “Wishbones.” As soon as Paul launched into an unevenly paced version of “The World Ain’t Slowing Down,” the fan-packed tent erupted in applause. Giving the crowd some time to calm down, Cleaves told a humorous story of the neighbor in his adopted home of Texas who inspired the sadly knowing song “Horses and Divoerces,” which was made all the more Country-fied by Cleaves’ impressive yodel solo. Picking up on the story-telling idea, Paul explained how he and Cleaves had decided to write a love song while on the road. The result was the simple though painstakingly-constructed loss poem “She Was.” Stepping out from behind the dobro, Plankenhorn offered a playful entreaty called “Theresa” with Cleaves offering solo support. After Paul demonstrated his ability to put Guthrie’s words to beautiful music with “God’s Promise,” Cleaves closed the set with an unplugged revival of the Gospel standard “This Morning” that, though at times hard to hear, was easy to feel.

- Matthew S. Robinson
c. 2003, M. S. Robinson, ARR



Ellis Paul and Patty Griffin

February 21, 1998 @ The Somerville Theatre, Somerville

Mixing his chunky, rhythmic and percussive strum with ghostly, resonant and absolutely stirring vocals, Paul won the crowd over with his wide smile, cute humor and "Aw, shucks!" humility. Belting out his messages with facial contortions which ran down to his feet, Paul mixed old faves (including a Reggaed remix of "Paris In A Day") and material from his forthcoming album "Translucent Soul" (the title track of which is a gorgeous tribute to Paul's friends and fellow folker Vance Gilbert and the wonderful relationship they share). With solid control over his mumbly slur, his mis-syllablization and his distance from the mic, Paul worked his voice and his mother-of-pearly Gibson in a captivatingly diverse style which ranged from timid and informative to torrential and imperative. He astutely claimed to be only a "v" away from Elvis, but The King should be so lucky!
Aside from an anti-climactic impromptu final encore, the highlights of the night came when Patty joined "Paul" on stage. Their sound was as warm and comforting as "a wool blanket on a cotton sheet." Re-enacting her perfectly-picked accompaniments on Paul's "Deliver Me" and "Last Call," Griffin acted as a soulful shadow, backing and supporting Ellis with ethereal vocal flights.
When it was her time to shine solo, Patty's sometimes gently timid but often relentless and even grating metallic strum and surprisingly big and echoey Nicks/Raitt-y voice overwhelmed the stage. Even after a few monitor adjustments, Griffin's in-laid and slightly off-tune guitar forced her to yell a bit. While the clarity of her lyrics suffered somewhat, her vocal strength was hardly challenged. Her recent recording stint in Nashville was evident in her voice, as was a distinct emotional range from happiness and hope to anguish and anger. Admitting to having a "sleepy day," Griffin kept the pace up for most of her set and, by the end, had worked the crowd into a three-encore ovation (including one with Paul, who had been cheering his fellow Maine-iac from the wings all along). Not even a broken string could prevent Griffin from halting the musical magic created this night in Somerville. She and Paul are true musicians and true storytellers and their traditional reunion was a treat for all involved.

- Matthew S. Robinson
© 1998 M. S. Robinson, ARR


Ellis Paul

April 25, 1997 The Me & Thee Coffeehouse

Taking the pulpit of the Unitarian Universalist Church dressed in jeans and a self-ridiculed Delta Airlines staff jacket, Ellis opened with a selection from his new album “Carnival of Voices” (see review) called “Trolley Car Trail,” a gently padded pick through Park Street station and connecting points. Mixing gorgeous fingering with JT mouth twitches, Paul swallowed and spit-up sumptuous syllables, drawing his audience into his lyrical secrets and stories with each note. Despite being but one man with two guitars, Paul’s performance was incredibly varied. Mixing old tunes like “Ashes and Dust” with the pounding new single (Yes- a folk single!) “Deliver Me” and soon-to-be-recorded debuts about dry Utah towns and, Paul also offered his own personal favorites such as the brilliant anti-love love song “Here She Is” (lyrically reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXX”) and even a tune by close friend Vance Gilbert (see March issue). Throughout the show, Paul displayed the talent at both writing and performing that inspired his introduction as “the whole enchilada” (er- lobster roll, this being Marblehead).
Despite the Carpenter Gothic arched roof, Paul’s smooth tones pushed his lyrics to enfold and enrapture the entire room. Even when he stepped back from or even unplugged his mic, Paul’s subtle swelling power was unavoidable. Though Paul’s lyrics occasionally fell weak or were lost in his invitingly smoky whisper, his guitar took up the slack, allowing his vocal tones to act as a second instrumental line. However, during his beautifully achy a cappella version of “Say Something” (which just happens to be Paul’s e-mail address), Paul staved-off the desire to accompany himself and instead let his voice be its own instrument. Though his gaffes were few, Paul had the honesty to admit them. “When you make a mistake,” he advised, “play it twice. That way, it seems like you meant to do it!” Even when a string broke, Paul played on, rearranging his sparkling arrangements to adjust to the oddly-tuned 5-string.
With his “aw shucks” humbleness and down-home charm, Paul played to and for his audience, allowing them to dictate many of his selections, even if he had not played them for many months. Among his familiar favorites were his cleverly pointed “Autobiography of a Pistol,” sing-along versions of “Paris in a Day” and “300 Miles” (featuring special guests the Williams Brothers), the oft-requested but never (professionally) recorded wedding song “Shiny Black Shoes” (which Ellis generously allowed to be taped for the upcoming marriage of a pair of fans) and the grandfather of all familiar songs, a childishly airy take on “Happy Birthday” to yet another devoted fan. As he stepped down into the congregation for his second encore ‘unplugged’ closer, Paul completed the circle of closeness and immediacy he creates with every song. Set in a warm and accepting church, Paul’s performance truly was a near-religious experience!

- Matthew S. Robinson
© 1997 M. S. Robinson, ARR


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