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Ellis Paul: Paying out musical dividends

Black & white photograph of musician Ellis Paul kindly provided by macpolski; color photograph graciously shared by Louise/4tay

When singer/songwriter Ellis Paul took the stage last Saturday night, he was not alone.  He brought with him that sense of calm and confidence that comes from years of experience.  His ninety minute set reflected that quiet confidence, offering a rare and pleasing blend of melody and personality that left the audience lingering well after the music had ended, hoping for more.

His original brand of music has a lyrical quality with a sound grounded in folk, but spiced with a country/pop flavor.  It’s a combination that has won regional and national accolades.  Most recently, Paul has been asked to collaborate on the film “Hall Pass” (starring Owen Wilson and slated for a February 2011 release).  Up to eight songs from the singer’s 2010 album “The Day after Everything Changed” will be featured in the soundtrack.

Paul had a humorous take on this collaboration for the Saturday night audience.  “Some of you know that I’ve had a couple of songs in movies over the years, most of them in Farrelly brothers films.  They just called me and asked me to send the new record to them.  Then they called me back, and they said, can you send another copy of the record, but this time….could you take the vocals out? And I said sure, can you send me your next movie without the actors?”

Fortunately, the vocals were left in for the November 20 show.  Paul has a clear and expressive voice with a faint breathy quality that lends character; his range was showcased nicely against a spare instrumental background consisting of his own guitar, harmonica, or piano play.  Limited back-up vocals were provided by a willing audience.

Both setlist and requested songs were played, ranging from the socially relevant “Hurricane Angel” to the romantic “Rose Tattoo” and the whimsical “Dragonfly”.  Most remarkable were the lyrics to these songs, capable of evoking vivid imagery, and in some cases an emotional response.

Listen to “Hurricane Angel”, the personal and poignant story of post Katrina Louisiana.  “Mr. President, you can’t afford to lie, cause I can’t afford to pay.  Hurricane Angel I’m lifting my eyes over Baton Rouge.  Lift up your wings, let me hear your voice singing, can your turn these black skies to blue again?”

“The Lights of Vegas” is one of several songs on the new album co-written by Kristian Bush, one-half of the smash country duo Sugarland and a longtime Ellis Paul friend.  This is the story of a man who leaves all behind to invest his last dollar in the slots, looking for that one last chance before the sun rises.  The following performance clip includes a brief rehearsal segment as the audience learns the song’s simple chorus. Na na na na….

Throughout the evening, brief interludes between songs were filled by stories of the musician’s life on the road, and these were punctuated by the same dry and intelligent wit that characterizes Paul’s songwriting.

It was a ninety minute set that felt like twenty, skillfully paced and delivered.  As a first introduction to singer/songwriter Ellis Paul, this New Jersey evening proved a complete success.  The show was well worth the investment of time and travel, and one that paid musical dividends.

For more on singer/songwriter Ellis Paul:

For a look at creative marketing & a free download of the title track from “The Day after Everything Changed”:

Taylor Hicks at WorkPlay Theatre: Win Tickets!

Photograph of Taylor Hicks live performance courtesy of macpolski.

American Idol winner Taylor Hicks will bring his upbeat and energetic live show to Birmingham’s WorkPlay Theatre on Thursday, December 9 at 8:00 p.m.  You can be there to share the music and the fun!

Here’s how to win tickets to the show:  Simply reply to this post with a comment of your own.  Tell us why you need to be part of the audience for this show.  It’s not a requirement, but creative and/or humorous responses are encouraged.

The winner will be selected at random from all entries received by midnight on Sunday, November 14, and will receive two complimentary tickets to see the Taylor Hicks band at WorkPlay Theatre.  The winner will be notified by email on Monday, November 15.

Not sure what kind of show to expect on December 9?  It’s safe to say that a number of Taylor Hicks original songs and a few well placed covers will be included.  For examples of the live show, scroll down; you’ll find video from the most recent concert in Maplewood, Minnesota.

Can’t wait for the contest results?  Purchase tickets to the December 9 show online here:

Thanks for playing!

November 15: The results are in!  Congratulations to winner Angels941 whose name was drawn at random from all contest entries.  Thank you to all who participated!

Taylor Hicks in Minneapolis: An Idol in America’s City

Photos, videos and blog graciously provided by Louise/4Tay.

Living and working in New Jersey has its advantages during the first week of November.  It’s teacher’s convention week, and this provided great motivation to ‘convene’ in another state.  That’s how I found my way to Minneapolis, Minnesota and to the Maplewood Performing Arts Theatre.  The Theatre was the setting for an intimate Friday night show  that dovetailed nicely with Taylor Hicks’ scheduled charity gig (Dawn of a Dream Gala) the next evening.  Since every show has a unique personality, I was interested to see what Taylor would bring to Maplewood, in the land of America’s Mall and in the country’s safest city.

Taylor made his entrance sharply at 7:30 pm.  He left the stage at 9:10 pm.  Thirteen songs, some original, some covers, but the three included here were my favorites of the show.  When I put the camera in video mode, I tend to stop it when I see a good photo op.  I never get much video as a result.  During these three songs, I continued filming and felt confident that I wouldn’t regret the decision.

Hold on To Your Love is a Latin number Taylor wrote when he was about 20 years old. He said he never had much exposure to Latin music living in “LA” (Lower Alabama).  But, Latin it is.  Great melody and rhythm were provided by Jeff Lopez and Leif Bondarenko. Jeff substituted on congas for the late Matt Kimbrell.

Taylor and guitarist Sam Gunderson jammed at the end, with Taylor punctuating ‘Hold On, Hold On, Hold On’ to the beat of the drums and boom of the bass provided by Brandon Peeples.  Taylor added some great footwork to go along with the explosive sound of the band as they moved toward the end of the song.

Taylor commented before he started the Grateful Dead’s Scarlet Begonias that he listens to the Dead all of the time and had always wanted to do this song in a show. Having seen him perform the song at Epcot, I got excited as soon as the congas, bass and guitar started the duh, da da da da duh duh da duh duh duh.

I can jokingly say now that Taylor knows this song inside and out and the performance is enhanced because of it.  I just cannot stop humming it today.

And then Brian Less pressed the keyboard into service by hitting the first few notes of Elton John’s The Border Song; the audience let out a collective sigh.  All but Taylor and Brian left the stage.  The keyboard introduced the mood and when Taylor started to sing, it was as if this song was meant for his voice.  I have been fortunate to see this tune performed once before in Madison and will always hold both experiences close to my heart.  Two brothers together on the stage expressed that ‘he’s my brother, let us live in peace.’

The house was not full, but the enthusiastic applause and banter between Taylor and the audience members more than compensated for the numbers. Standing ovations for 19 and The Border Song among others made it feel like we were in Wembley Stadium.

I watched my videos from the 2007 show at The Beacon on the plane ride to Minneapolis.  What that show meant to Taylor as he took a bite out of the big Apple translates to the type of show he did in America’s city.  An Idol for many reasons, Taylor made a perfect fit for this small, intimate Maplewood venue with an audience of enthusiastic music lovers and friends by his side.

Saturday’s sold out Dawn of a Dream Gala benefited children’s cancer research. Fundraising reportedly exceeded the target goal by $100,000.  I’d say that both audiences hit the jackpot this past weekend in Minneapolis. One event provided an intimate, long, cool, soul encounter and the other, a night filled with the spirit of giving.  Together, these events made for two very different Taylor experiences.   An Idol for many reasons, and for all seasons, had his hand in both of these events. Minneapolis rocks!

Back from the Gulf

All media happily captured at Miramar Beach, FL during the week of October 24, 2010.

The sand was thick and soft and white.  Even a light step was easily molded.  I spent the week hoping that the impression of my fractured second toe wouldn’t appear gargantuan against the delicate imprint of the sandpipers that walked close beside me.

Faced with the clear, emerald waters of northern Florida, it’s easy to put aside memories of the disaster that threatened the Gulf waters, coast, and wildlife, and that continues to damage the coastal economy.  It was only six months ago that an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig led to eleven deaths and the uncontrolled spill of nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  It has only been three months since the spill was first arrested; the well was finally confirmed sealed on September 19.

After a night of high winds and turbulent surf, a reddish brown stain appeared on the sand outside my vacation rental, and I did wonder whether oil had been uncovered from deeper waters.  There were no tar balls on the northern Florida beach, however, and no other reminder of the oil spill disaster.  In contrast, “Operation Deep Clean” along the Alabama coastline has recently mobilized heavy equipment to remove tar balls buried in the sand, and the Louisiana coast is still described as “heavily oiled” in some parts.  While the active leak has been sealed, important clean-up work remains.

The economic impact of the spill has been considerable.  Fishing waters were restricted immediately after the accident, and have gradually been restored.  Hotels and restaurants that are usually filled during the summer vacation season were significantly impacted.  Hotel occupancy rates in Florida were down 30% this summer due to the perception of oil on the beaches. 

BP (British Petroleum) has set the end of 2010 as the target for full restoration of the pristine Gulf coast beaches.  Assuming that target is reached, and visual reminders of the oil spill are removed, I think that the challenge is then to keep the accident in the forefront of our collective public memory.

During the height of the crisis, photographs of the burning rig and plumes of oil were ready evidence of the damage done.  During the summer and early fall, beach restoration efforts have been in full public view.  Well publicized and well attended Gulf front concerts that featured stars including Jimmy Buffett, Brad Paisley, and Alan Jackson heightened awareness of the crisis and brought visitors and customers to the coast.  Alabama spokesperson Taylor Hicks lent his name and face to the cause, earnestly imploring Americans to “…see this catastrophic disaster through from beginning to the end”.

What is the end of this disaster?  Is it over when the beaches are clean, and no visible signs of the spill remain?  Is it over when the Gulf coast economy rebounds, when the hotels are full and the fishing boats again make daily trips?

Is this disaster ended when we insist upon and enforce stringent practice and safety standards that will minimize the likelihood of another blowout?  Or is this disaster finally over when acceptable sources of “clean” energy become available and offshore drilling in the Gulf is ended?

On October 12, the Obama administration ban on exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was lifted.  Reportedly, new requirements will make it more difficult to obtain a permit to drill.  Companies will be required to meet new standards for well design and demonstrate disaster readiness.  Safety equipment, including blowout preventers, will have to meet engineering standards and be independently certified.  Oil company chief executives will be required to personally guarantee that their rigs satisfy all applicable safety and environmental regulations.

Are these changes enough to ensure the health of the Gulf, and the well-being of those who depend on the Gulf for their livelihoods?  I don’t know.  I do think that we have a responsibility to remember what has happened, to continue to ask questions and to insist upon answers, even and especially when the sequelae of the oil spill are no longer clearly visible in the sand or headlined in the evening news.

For more on the oil spill disaster, efforts to stem the leak, and effects on wildlife, read here:

For more on lingering effects of the spill along the Gulf coast, read here:

For more on the moratorium on deepwater drilling, and new government regulations, read here: