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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
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
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,"
"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,"
"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
Grace Norton Rogers School Theater, Hightstown, 609-259-5764. In
two widely popular singer-songwriters who are also good friends. $15.
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