Ellis Paul – 55
Ellis Paul – 55
Format: CD – Digital
Label: Rosetta Records
Release date: June 9, 2023
When the world was shut down by Covid-19 in 2020, Ellis Paul, like many musicians, turned to the internet as a safety net to catch the fall of his tumbling livelihood. He set up microphones and lights in a spare bedroom and started performing livestream shows, hosting songwriter sessions, and playing one-on-one concerts for fans. He relied on the good will of a devoted audience that he had built over three decades. He was able to cobble together enough to keep his family fed, and he did it all from his home.
He also began to write. Before the pandemic, he’d never had the luxury of so much time at home. Songs and recordings had often been created on the fly, on open calendar dates during intense stretches of over two hundred nights per year on the road. Rushing to studios, rushing to shows, writing on airplanes. But now Ellis was home, with time on his hands.
He was turning 55, and not struggling with the idea of the age, but the consequences of it. Dupuytren’s contracture, a disease that tightly closes the fingers into a fist, had settled into both of his hands. He was wondering how long he had left as a guitarist and a pianist before it rendered playing and writing almost impossible. It eventually would.
So he just began. Song by song. While he had the time and still had the use of his fingers. Eventually, his journals had over 40 new songs etched into them.
He wrote about turning 55 during a pandemic, about the catharsis of outliving the things he’d grown up with – milkmen delivering to the door, 8-track tapes, fax machines – while at the same time losing his hero John Prine to Covid-19.
The isolation of the pandemic – writing alone, recording at home, producing himself – all came with a restless madness. But Ellis found inspiration in Peter Jackson’s brilliant Beatles’ documentary Get Back. He’d repeatedly watch the show for hours until he felt a unique electric inspiration, and then he’d run downstairs to his studio to record into the wee hours of the morning.
You can still hear the wake of the British Invasion 60 years later in these songs. The Easter eggs are everywhere: the George Harrison-style guitar and backing vocals on ‘The Gift’, the lyrics in ‘Everyone Knows it Now’, the ringmaster and circus crowd noise in ‘Tattoo Lady’, and of course, the harmonies.
He brought in Laurie MacAllister and Abbie Gardner of the beloved Americana trio Red Molly, alongside Grammy-nominated Seth Glier for background vocals. And though many of the instruments were played by Ellis at home, he traveled up to the Woodstock, NY studio of engineer Mark Dann, enlisting the talents of studio veterans Eric Parker on drums (Bonnie Raitt, Orleans, John Hall), Radoslav Lorković on piano (Odetta, Jimmy LaFave), and Mark Dann himself on extra electric guitars and bass.