Boston Globe Review of "American Jukebox Fables"
Friday, April 8, 2005
Ellis Paul is a folk troubadour with an increasingly believable pop edge. He has made a gem of an album with Boston producer Flynn, who captures Paul's acoustic-poet essence and garnishes it with a stirring array of soulful strings, driving rhythms, unexpected percussive accents, and the otherworldly voice of Rachael Davis. She embellishes opening track ''Blacktop Train," about crisscrossing the country ''on a quest for the trail of Jack Kerouac." There is plenty of time-worn wisdom in these tunes, from the gently rocking ''Alice's Champagne Palace" (about visiting a friendly bar in Homer, Alaska) to the polished ''Goodbye Hollywood," about missing a lover in Iowa. Paul remains a singer/songwriter of uncommon insight -- and this time turns his pen toward Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who volunteered to fight in Afghanistanand was killed. In the stately ''Kiss the Sun (A Song for Pat Tillman)," Paul sings that Tillman went to Afghanistan ''for justice, not for greed," though Paul can't help wondering whether Tillman was inadvertently fighting ''an oilman's war." As he intones in a voice cracking with emotion, ''Is that what Pat Tillman died for?" Each of Paul's songs is a marvel of economy -- and he's not afraid to swing a broad brush at the media (''Bad, Bad Blood" is about opportunistic TV cameramen who film police gunning down a robber) and at the narrow-mindedness of some people who have no sympathy for an out-of-wedlock child. It's a passionate album, vigorously sung by Paul, who seems ready to take the next step in his career. Paul headlines the Somerville Theatre tomorrow night. -- Steve Morse