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Ellis Paul: The Day After Everything Changed

| October 21, 2010 | 1 Comment

A singer-songwriter is only as good as the times he reflects. In times like these, when so many nuts are running the show, it’s comforting to know that Ellis Paul is actually holding our sanity on his own stage! Wise, tender, brilliant and biting, Ellis is one of our best human compasses, marking in melodies and poems where we’ve been and where we might go if we so choose. Personally Ellis, I’m goin’ where you’re goin’!

—Nora Guthrie (Woody Guthrie’s daughter)

The Day After Everything Changed is the sixteenth installment in Ellis Paul’s prolific songwriting career. Since emerging from the Boston music scene, Paul’s music has been consistently recognized and celebrated by both critics and fans alike. This record, which was completely fan-funded, reinforces this acclaim and has cemented his place as one of America’s most talented songwriters.

The album was recorded in Nashville and features five songs co-written by Kristian Bush of the Grammy award-winning duo Sugarland. The pairing of Ellis and Sugarland comes from a 15+ year friendship and collaboration with Kristian Bush. The two have been writing partners throughout the years, and in addition to the 5 shared songs on The Day After Everything Changed, Sugarland’s 2009 holiday album Gold and Green features 2 co-writes by Ellis, “City of Silver Dreams” and “Little Wood Guitar”.

Paul grew up in northern Maine, in a potato farming community so remote that his exposure to music came almost entirely from the one top-40 station he could get on his radio, and his school band, where he played trumpet well enough to earn a summer scholarship to the Berklee College of Music.

He toured the country competing in track, catching a hard case of wanderlust, and earning a track scholarship to Boston College.

It was there that he discovered songwriting, completely out of boredom when a track-career-ending knee injury left him bedridden for months, and he began making up songs on a guitar a friend had given him. By 1989, he was haunting the open mic scene that would soon produce the most important generation of Boston folk stars since the early ’60s, including Paul, Dar Williams, Vance Gilbert, Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball (then performing as The Story), Martin Sexton, Patty Griffin and Catie Curtis.

Almost immediately, Paul’s infectious melodicism, literate lyrics, and honest performing style drew attention. As early as 1993, the Boston Globe was calling him a songwriter’s songwriter, adding that “no emerging songwriter in recent memory has been more highly touted and respected by songwriters.”

While his style was highly introspective at that time, it was also informed by a probing humanism shaped in part by the five years he spent as a social worker. Every day he struggled to help urban kids hovering dangerously on the edges of the criminal justice and welfare systems.

Recalling those days, Paul says, “It definitely gave me a whole new vision of what the world could be like. Even BC was about as safe an environment as you could find. Picking up kids at the projects, breaking up fights, talking to parole officers and psychologists, getting to know this side of life I’d never been exposed to, really opened my mind up. From that, maybe I took sort of a wide-eyed view of the world around me, which seeped into my music.”

In particular, Paul fell under the spell of Woody Guthrie, who wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” “Pastures of Plenty” and a thousand other American anthems. By 1998, Paul was telling the Boston Globe that Woody, to him, was “ground zero, the prototype in a long line of people I’m a huge fan of.” He put a Woody Guthrie tattoo on his arm, solemnly telling people it was “a commitment.”

An increasingly topical humanism informed his work. Like Guthrie a half-century before, Paul displayed a humble genius for putting the most divisive issues of his day into starkly personal and emotional terms. “She loves a girl,” he sang. “What are you going to do if you love her, too?”

“I feel like I’m more a part of a community now than just a songwriter singing about my own struggles and the struggles of the friends I see around me,” Paul says of his career today. “Maybe that’s the difference between being a singer-songwriter and being a folk musician, that transition into more of a community sense of writing.

“There are differences between the me now and the me I was in the early ’90s,” he says quietly. “I have a reliable fan base that keeps a roof over my head, for which I’m so thankful. And I think they’re also willing and forgiving enough for me to go through any evolution I choose, as long as the core of what I do is honest, and that I continue to write songs and stories about the things I see around me.

“I need to keep feeling refreshed. I’ve been down the Ellis Paul rabbit-hole, you know, and now I’m looking around and trying to learn new things, experience other people’s music and stories. I have no idea where I’m headed, but I think it’ll make me a broader artist. ”

That sounds like a very safe bet.

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Category: Be Heard Jukebox Archive

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  1. Shaney McCoy says:

    I saw Ellis Paul at a house concert here in Salt Lake City months ago and bought “The Day After Everything Changed.” It is one of those few CDs that is almost always in the 6-disc player in my car. He is a true wordsmith and inspires me in my own songwriting. Whatever your involvement with music (writer, player, listener, all of the above) you will be glad you got this CD. Thanks Ellis!

    Shaney McCoy

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