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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the November 7,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Vance Gilbert & Ellis Paul: Perfect Together

Just as there was a unique dynamic at work when John

Lennon and Yoko Ono entered the studio together, or when Mick Jagger

and Keith Richards work out a song, so there is a certain dynamic

at work when singer-songwriters Vance Gilbert and Ellis Paul perform

together. Both Boston-based artists will perform at the Grace Rogers

School Theater in Hightstown, on Saturday, November 10, at 8 p.m.,

part of Outta Sights ‘n’ Sounds concert series.

What makes this pairing produce such great music and such an


evening of storytelling, song, and humor?

"He’s my best friend, so that’s a good start," explains


43, in a phone interview from his home in Arlington, Massachusetts.

"What happens is `the physiogamy’ of us being on stage together.

We both come out at the same time and we launch into tunes and


we might sing and play somebody else’s tune. Because of our


there’s a particular synergy we have that makes it a successful


for both of us," says Gilbert.

Gilbert’s latest album is "Somerville Live," recorded live

at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, Massachusetts, a few miles

down the road from his home. Paul’s current releases include


Soul" and "Live," a double CD, on the Rounder Records


Gilbert grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey; Paul grew

up in Maine. Both settled in the Boston area, long a magnet for


and contemporary folksingers. Growing up in suburban Philadelphia,

Gilbert became a fan of all sorts of music: jazz, blues, classic R&B,

Motown and 1970s rock ‘n’ roll. Gilbert attended Connecticut College

in New London, where he had his first inklings of wanting to become

a musician. After graduating with a degree in biology in 1979, he

went to Boston where he divided his time between pursuing a jazz/pop

direction as a singer and guitarist and teaching school.

Of his current release on his own Disismye Music label, Gilbert says

it comes from a split bill show he did with Paul at the Somerville


"I found out when I got there he was recording a good portion

of his live album that night, so I asked the sound engineer if he’d

record me as well," Gilbert explains. "It was probably one

of the least expensive albums ever made."

Gilbert says the 1980s folk renaissance, that still goes on today

to some extent in the Boston area, was something that passed him by.

He didn’t begin his own recording career until the mid-1990s, when

he recorded his first album with Rounder.

"My interest was in jazz and pop, and I didn’t even know there

was such a thing as a folk scene until 1987 when I first heard Tracey

Chapman. All of a sudden she was playing Club Passim and then she

was doing theaters, and next thing I knew, I heard `Fast Car’ on pop

radio. The whole folk thing happened without me, no one asked me,"

he says, laughing

Gilbert explains that, as late as the early 1990s, "I was trying

to be the acoustic Al Jarreau or Bobby McFerrin, and I had no


about being a folk anything. Back then, the only reason I knew a Dylan

tune was because the Neville Brothers or Roberta Flack covered one

of them."

Gilbert and Paul both have impressive discographies, for artists that

in some places around the U.S. are still considered to be part of

an up-and-coming crowd of contemporary singer-songwriters. Aside from

"Somerville Live," released in 2000, Gilbert has three


acclaimed albums for Rounder: "Edgewise," (1994)


(1995) and "Shaking Off Gravity" (1998).

Paul’s career was launched after his 1994 release "Stories"

got him noticed by Rounder Records. Owing to his own work ethic,


two-thirds of the year on the road, he carved a national following

based on the strength of his live shows. A seven-time Boston Music

Award recipient for best folk artist, he has won comparable awards

at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. The Boston Globe has


him as "a national folk star and to many the quintessential Boston

songwriter: literate, provocative, urbanely romantic."

Paul’s other albums for Rounder include his 2000


"Live," as well as "Am I Home" and "Secret


also released in 2000. Paul’s three albums for Rounder’s Philo


include "Translucent Soul," an autobiographical sketch about

the pain of his divorce, a 1996 release, "A Carnival of


and the reissue of his independently released "Stories" album

in 1994.

Gilbert and Paul work together without any kind of a set list. Their

synergy, Gilbert stresses, is improvised and loose. "Once I’m

standing there, then there’s a set list," Gilbert says.


he’ll spring out a bunch of new songs and I’ll spring out a couple

of new songs, and who knows what will happen after that."

Two years ago, Paul moved to Nashville. Gilbert wrote a song about

his best friend’s departure that appears on his "Shaking Off


album, called "Takin’ It All To Tennessee." Paul didn’t stay

in Nashville very long before moving back to Boston. Now that his

friend is back in nearby Medford, Massachusetts, not far from his

own home, Gilbert says, "I think he had a musical center here.

His management and friends were all in Boston. Also, Boston is a


central location, travel-wise, to do what we do."

Gilbert says Saturday’s concert will include lots of duets from both

singers, lots of stories, in between tunes and lots of funny stories

in between tunes as well.

"Ellis is a stupendous — a stupendous — storyteller,"

Gilbert enthuses. "He’s got some the best preambles to some of

his tunes. They’re just wonderful send-ups."

"The audience can expect a fair amount of co-inspiration,"

Gilbert predicts.

"That is the biggest thing that happens at a Vance Gilbert Ellis

Paul double bill. Musically, and singing-wise, the ante is upped a

little bit, because we tend to be playing for each other as well as

for the audience. In some ways, my abilities with an audience make

Ellis go deep into the well to do a lot of different things,"

he explains.

"And his awesome writing ability and performance style makes me

go to the well. I realize, I had better be extremely musical when

I’m standing in his auspices. Again, it all gets back to that phrase,


— Richard J. Skelly

Vance Gilbert & Ellis Paul , Outta Sights & Sounds,

Grace Norton Rogers School Theater, Hightstown, 609-259-5764. In


two widely popular singer-songwriters who are also good friends. $15.

Saturday, November 10, 8 p.m.

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