Carnival of Voices

Ellis Paul • Philo/umgd • Feb 1996

Slapping to life on a hard snare head, the album is introduced by the lyrically cynical bewailing of city life "Midnight Strikes Too Soon." City lights illuminate the first few rides in the carnival, from the mellow "Midnight" to the tuneful travel log "Paris in a Day" (featuring backing by Patty Griffin and the clever musical question "What would Marcel Marceau say?") to the MBTA-inspired whispered reminiscence "Trolley Car." The train theme is touched on again in "Deliver Me," which mixes slightly annoying syllabic swallowing and musical mispronunciation with fluid guitar work and intelligent and insightful Biblical references. Inner-city blues return in "The Ball Is Coming Down," a tragically throbbing view of New Year's Eve and the sad people who struggle through it each year. On the more hopeful side is the gorgeous ballad of faith called "Weightless" that mixes Paul's lovely picking and voice with that of the equally lovely Jennifer Kimball. As Paul reminds listeners in the unlisted group reprise of the opening chorus, "Midnight Strikes Too Soon." In other words, life is fleeting and unpredictable, so live it fully, or else be forced to face the regret beautifully depicted in songs such as "Never Lived at All," "All My Heroes Were Junkies," and the hidden final track "Ghosts." A good start would be buying his album and taking Paul's lyrical messages to heart. - Matthew Robinson, All Music Guide