Ellis Paul continues to impress with the personal and political.
When he started his own record label and subsequently released his 2019 album ‘The Storyteller’s Suitcase’ Ellis Paul made clear his intention to write only about subjects that mattered to him from that point on. The inclusion of songs addressing the American elections, a returning soldier with PTSD and a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville made that point loud and clear.
Paul’s latest release ‘55’ takes another step firmly in that direction with a mix of the personal and political. The title track sees him using the enforced confinement of Covid to reflect on a life led and the consequences of ageing. Looking back at things that have come and gone, 8-Tracks and fax machines, Paul’s reflections take on a particular poignancy when addressing how he survives a pandemic while others, namely John Prine, succumbed – “This virus don’t care if you’ve got mouths to feed or about songs you’re singing while the whole world’s bleeding, while you get to stay and John Prine’s leaving, who’s in charge of the order?”
The personal and the political come together for ‘Be The Fire’ and ‘When Angels Fall’. The latter takes aim fairly and squarely at the NRA in the USA. Priorities are questioned in the lyrics “Are you going to fight, fight for your guns, or fight for children.” Written in the aftermath of yet another school shooting, in this case Uvalde in May 2022, Paul reflects how his own daughters’ school was closed three times in 2021 after threats of gun violence. With this in mind ‘Be The Fire’ sees Paul co-writing with Nashville heavyweights Kristian Bush and Jon Mabe to implore his children to rise above the vicissitudes of teenage life and all that it entails in this place and time; to just be the best you can.
Dupuytren’s Contracture, a disease that tightly closes the fingers into a fist, has settled into both of Ellis Paul’s hands. Wondering how long he has left as a guitarist and a pianist before it renders playing and writing almost impossible, there is both a freedom and an urgency in Paul’s writing. As he made clear back in 2019 he hasn’t got time to faff about with things that don’t matter to him. Paul is a clever lyricist and accomplished musician and ‘55’ enhances his already considerable reputation.