Ellis Paul performs in Beaver Creek Sunday
VAIL CO, Colorado
Heroes like Woody Guthrie, Jackie Robinson and Chief Joseph are in danger of fading from the history books. Ellis Paul is trying to prevent that from happening.
With his new record “The Hero In You,” the musician sings songs about everyone from Ben Franklin to Rosa Parks. Intended as a family album that those young and old can enjoy, Paul wanted the record to be both educational and entertaining. A “School House Rock” -like collection for the modern era, Paul defines a hero as anyone who takes a risk for social change.
“(A hero is) somebody that puts (themselves) on the line for something they believe in doing and accomplishing … people that are doing something to make the world a better place,” Paul said.
In addition to the historical heroes Paul writes about on his record, he’s also inspired by a few who live in his own house. The father of two daughters ages 5 and 7, Paul started making family records so that his children could listen to his music. His previous family-oriented album, “Dragonfly Races,” was geared towards the 5-and-under crowd. Paul said that he envisions “The Hero In You” as a record that both parents and children can listen to together. He hopes it will help “start a conversation” between parent and child about who these heroes are and the impact they had on society.
Paul has been a prominent member of the Boston folk-pop and singer-songwriter scene since the late ’80s. He’s known for his inspirational songs that combine the soulful storytelling of Bob Dylan with the moving melodies of Joni Mitchell. When writing his own songs, Paul often looks to both these musicians for motivation. But it’s Woody Guthrie who Paul feels most akin to, both musically and in his desire to change the world through song.
In an age when the din of reality TV often drowns out the stories of average and hard-working Americans, Paul is looking to shine a light on those people in his music.
“What I love about him (Woody Guthrie) was that he was writing about people, real life, he was a journalist in a way,” Paul said. “Radio music is meant to sell advertisements, but he was writing songs that were informative and inspiring, he didn’t care whether they brought in cash or not.”
A former social-worker-turned musician, Paul now considers himself “more a sociologist than a social worker, because you’re really looking at what’s wrong with the world and how to make it better,” he said.
Whether he’s making a record for children or adults, Paul still focuses on listening pleasure over politics. When writing “The Hero In You,” Paul wasn’t trying to be a teacher lecturing a classroom on the history of folk music, because that would be boring, he said. Instead he tried to capture the essence and feeling of the hero he was writing about in song form.
“I just want to feel slightly altered when I’m listening to a song,” Paul said. “I want to have my romantic DNA triggered.”
Some consider an Ellis Paul concert to be a life-altering experience itself. Bryon White, of the band The Damn Quails, first discovered folk music after seeing Paul perform at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Oklahoma.
“The first time I saw Ellis Paul at the Blue Door was the first time I actually saw one guy with one guitar command a room that you could hear a pin drop in,” said White in a recent January interview with The Oklahoman.
Paul is looking forward to his performance at the Vilar Center on Sunday because he loves the venue’s acoustics and warm atmosphere. He will play songs from both his family and adult records. Even though the new record was just released Jan. 1, Paul’s already won over two tough critics.
“I know my kids love it; so far, so good,” Paul said.-
Rosanna Turner is a freelance writer based in Vail. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org
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