Newest Ellis Paul May be Best Release of the Decade

Chasing Beauty
Black Wolf
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Is Ellis Paul the hardest working musician in acoustic music? Damned if I've ever seen him leave anything behind in the green room. Any new Ellis Paul album is reason for celebration, but Chasing Beauty is triumphant even by his exalted standards. I do not exaggerate when I say this is was not only the album of the year for 2014, but it's quite possibly the best I've heard this decade. Paul is an American troubadour in the mold of Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan and he's a better singer than any of them—he of the impossibly high voice in which each syllable explodes with emotive energy.

Chasing Beauty is Paul's 19th album and it's a true roller coaster of moods, emotions, and images. The title song embodies the album's namesake theme: the promises, open wounds, and approach/flight dance involved in chasing beauty in its various guises. Where do we find it? Some times it's in simple things—moving in close, a train ride, a cathartic roller coaster ride–themes he explores in "Take Me to a Drive-in Movie." Sometimes it's something more complex, like the American spirit in times of adversity, which he reconnoiters in "Empire State," his love letter to New York City's iconic and indomitable skyscraper. Some times it's looking back ("Plastic Soldier"); other times it's being in the moment and seeing the world through the eyes of his daughter ("Hold Me, Scold Me"). Listen hard to Ellis Paul lyrics–they are filled with poetic wonder, and some times they just dispel simple wisdom: "If you ain't got nothing that you'd die for/Tell me is your life worth living after all." Paul can be as soft as a spring breeze ("One Kiss Could Do Me In"), but he offers precious few nostrums; as he suggests in another song, sometimes roses come in cages. Paul is usually pegged as a "folk" singer, but "acoustic rock" might be a better handle. Chasing Beauty has many quiet moments, but it also a highly polished studio work that sports rolling organ notes, electric breakouts, and rock steady drumming. And, in true Ellis Paul fashion, his guitar work dazzles with virtuosity one moment and sends percussive shock waves the next. Mainly Paul just lets it all hang out and defies conventional classifications. Take a listen to his crowd-pleasing "Kick Out the Lights (Johnny Cash)" and come up with you own label, but I'm going with "masterpiece." –Rob Weir      

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