Chasing Beauty, the latest album from singer-songwriter Ellis Paul, is a collection of 14 songs written by Paul alone or in collaboration with other artists, friends who then seem to show up on the album with a little help. Sugarland’s Kristian Bush and Train’s Brandon Bush produced the album and play on many of the songs. Background vocals on individual tracks feature Red Molly and Rebecca Loebe. Additional instrumental backing comes from Travis McNabb on drums, Tim Smith on bass and guitar, and Megan Lovell on slide and dobro.
While many of the songs focus on external narratives, like “Kick Out the Lights (Johnny Cash)” based on a Grand Old Opry appearance of the legend, there are also some more personal pieces like “Hold Me, Scold Me,” an emotional expression of his feelings for his daughter. “You changed me,” he tells her with simple emotional sincerity, You’re the best love/I’ve ever had.” This is not to say that his story songs are insincere; they are simply less intensely personal.
In a song like “Empire State,” which deals with the construction of the Empire State Building, the inspiration is much more historical and impersonal. Here he is dealing with symbol and metaphor giving voice to the building itself. This is artifice. On the other hand, a song like “Waiting on a Break” written in the voice of an aspiring musician, may or may not be Paul’s personal story, but it is a story that seems more personally relevant. The singer’s dream, “The crowd calls us out/A thousand voices shout,” could well have been Paul’s, indeed it might still be. It, too, is artifice, but it feels sincere.
“Rose in a Cage” is perhaps meant as an allusion to the rose that would smell just as sweet by any other name. She is, after all, a Juliet in her father’s cage. Sung in the voice of her Romeo, it’s another of his more literary pieces, as is “Plastic Soldiers” which is written from the point of view of a soldier back from Afghanistan. They are both artifice, yet they exude the emotional strength and sincerity which is the essence of finely wrought art. And these are the songs where Ellis Paul is at his best.