Ellis Paul

American Jukebox Fables

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AllMusic Review by

Thanks to a number of releases on Philo (starting in the 1990s), Ellis Paul has earned a rep for his literate songs and distinctive high-end vocals. On American Jukebox Fables Paul brings these gifts to bear on the American landscape in the post-millennium, post-9/11 world. Perhaps the first thing one will notice is the big production, one that includes everything from acoustic and electric guitars to bass, drums, mandolins, and background vocals. It isn't so much the eclectic nature of these instruments that calls attention to the production, though, but the fact, in busier passages, that the instruments are all overlapping one another. While these arrangements don't overpower Paul's vocals on songs like "Blacktop Train" or "Kiss the Sun," they do add a busier, more bombastic dimension to them. The material -- as the title suggests -- has a strong Americana element throughout, with references to everyone from Johnny Cash to Charlie Chaplin to Hank Williams. In "Kiss the Sun," for instance, Paul mixes Middle American images -- Kansas wheat fields -- with images of war, but adds to the usual liberal message by praising figures as disparate as Martin Luther King and Lenny Bruce. One begins to gather with "Jukebox on My Grave" that Paul is building a portrait of his own America, an America with a legacy of violence and great music. While the production sometimes overwhelms the lyrical underpinning, fans will find American Jukebox Fables a fine entry in Paul's catalog.

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