Ellis Paul | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In the mid-80s, Ellis Paul went to college in Boston on a track scholarship, then blew out his knee and embarked on a career as a singer-songwriter; by 1990 he was a rising star on the city's folk scene, with two well-loved cassette releases making the rounds. Four albums later Paul still hadn't reached the national audience many critics seemed to think he deserved, but then a pair of unlikely patrons, directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, came to his rescue: in 2000 they used "The World Ain't Slowing Down" (from Paul's 1998 Philo CD, Translucent Soul) on the sound track of Me, Myself & Irene, and "Sweet Mistakes" (the title track of Paul's latest, on Co-op Pop) appeared in last year's Shallow Hal. Some of the lyrics to "Sweet Mistakes" ("If you pick your path and you walk your truth / The world will come round to you") look terminally smarmy on the page, but Paul's resonant tenor, which combines childlike tenderness with a gritty, elusive wounded quality, redeems all but the sappiest lines. His distinctive voice is even more effective on "Kristian's Song," which portrays a struggling street singer ("He plays it like it's religion that can heal the battle scars"); on "Independence Day," he fights to maintain his devotion to a lover ("'Stand by me,' that's what she said....Well, here I am"), though at the same time he feels she's manipulating him with her despair ("Now I know just what your truth is about / If you paint the daylight tragic, you're never gonna figure it out"). Paul's at his best with little or no musical backing (unaccountably, several of the tracks on Sweet Mistakes almost smother him with a power-pop band), and fortunately he'll perform unaccompanied here; on a mostly solo live album from 2000, he weaves together stories, poems, and songs with low-key, unforced intimacy. Saturday, April 6, 7 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Liz Linder.

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