This folk singer from Presque Isle, Maine has already made 19 albums but he isn’t in the mood to rest on his laurels. On the contrary, his mission here is to make a fresh personal statement based on experience garnered during a long career working the musical margins.
It is the first album he has produced himself and, in it, he sets out to write songs “to start over and find his own footing”. In so doing, he is fully cognizant of the need to attract an audience. The record was crowd-funded and comes with the prominent tag-line: “Every story needs a someone who will listen”.
This populist streak means that some of the sentiments tend to err on the schmaltzy side although, for the most part, there’s enough warmth and fuzziness to make this forgivable.
The cheesiest of the bunch is the opening track which seems tailor-made for wedding ceremonies. I Ain’t No Jesus comes with the less than modest admission that he hasn’t saved any souls nor walked on water, before declaring “the only miracle I've seen is you walking down the aisle with me”. Depending on your level of cynicism, this will either bring a tear to your eye of prompt you to reach for a sick bag.
Fortunately, the rest of the album sets the bar a little higher. It helps that, politically, he stands on the right side of history. The Battle Of Charlottesville pillories the white supremacists who protested against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in 2017, a hated-fueled action which led to the tragic death of Heather Heyer. The closing track Election Day, written by Michael K. Brown, is a gentle yet resonant protest song that pours scorn on the way Republicans are routinely financed by wealthy oilmen and the NRA.
The only other song not written, or co-written, by Paul is How You Say Goodbye, by Kyle Hancherik, which mixes together less controversial themes of love and baseball.
The title tune and Kiss Me ‘Cause I’m Gone are unambiguous celebrations of life on the road marking what he calls a “thirty year carnival ride”. Slingshot also makes the case for living in the moment whilst also dreaming of settling down in an idyllic cabin with an ocean view.
Paul’s storytelling prowess is well-illustrated on Scarecrow In A Crow Maze, a tale in the Western tradition featuring an imaginary hero named Colby James.
InFive Alarm Fire On The 4th of July, he documents some wild antics which took place on his grandparents’ farm in 1979 (“there ain’t a party till the cops show up with four fire engines”).
There are also plenty of tender and touching tunes to add personal touches to the album as a whole. The Innocence And The Afterlife sets to music a conversation with his 5 year-old daughter about what happens when we die. Death is also the subject of Heaven which was written as tribute to the late brother of a friend. In Mammoth, he explores the concept of going go back in time to be reunited with an old friend.
All in all, the variety and authenticity of the tunes makes for an engaging listen.
Ellis Paul’s website