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A Carnival of Voices

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Album Review

Slapping to life on a hard snare head, the album is introduced by the lyrically cynical bewailing of city life "Midnight Strikes Too Soon." City lights illuminate the first few rides in the carnival, from the mellow "Midnight" to the tuneful travel log "Paris in a Day" (featuring backing by Patty Griffin and the clever musical question "What would Marcel Marceau say?") to the MBTA-inspired whispered reminiscence "Trolley Car." The train theme is touched on again in "Deliver Me," which mixes slightly annoying syllabic swallowing and musical mispronunciation with fluid guitar work and intelligent and insightful Biblical references. Inner-city blues return in "The Ball Is Coming Down," a tragically throbbing view of New Year's Eve and the sad people who struggle through it each year. On the more hopeful side is the gorgeous ballad of faith called "Weightless" that mixes Paul's lovely picking and voice with that of the equally lovely Jennifer Kimball. As Paul reminds listeners in the unlisted group reprise of the opening chorus, "Midnight Strikes Too Soon." In other words, life is fleeting and unpredictable, so live it fully, or else be forced to face the regret beautifully depicted in songs such as "Never Lived at All," "All My Heroes Were Junkies," and the hidden final track "Ghosts." A good start would be buying his album and taking Paul's lyrical messages to heart.


Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A troubadour, a singer/songwriter, a folky, and a storyteller -- all are fair labels for this artist, but they do not quite suffice. However, the tattoo of Woody Guthrie worn proudly on his arm is a good starting place from which to grasp Ellis Paul, for it is from the Woody Guthrie tradition that he hails, and Maine as well. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor are also listed among his influences, and their spirits seem to occasionally grace his work. With an acoustic guitar in hand, he weaves...
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