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When you’re a kid, the phrases “concept album” and “folk music” don’t carry much weight. How, then, does Boston native and seasoned indie artist Ellis Paul pull off The Hero In You, an album consisting of tracks each touching upon historical figures from Rosa Parks to his own personal hero Woodie Guthrie? The answer, considering Paul’s skill and success in adult contemporary music, isn’t surprising: he’s just that good.
The Hero In You isn’t Paul’s first foray into the world of children’s music; after becoming a father, his 2008 album The Dragonfly Races was another notable success. Since then, however, the Boston artist had returned to his roots—in the style of his idol Guthrie, traveling the road and writing and performing his own adult material. The Hero In You offers kids soothing acoustic melodies that hits upon figures in history they may or may not be familiar with: Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Ben Franklin are simple ones, but when was the last time that a song was written on Augustus Jackson (a freed slave who became a White House chef) or Nellie Bly (a pioneer female journalist)? Paul expertly blends familiar figures and concepts to one that even parents may be unfamiliar with to keep his listeners old and young engaged.
The Hero in You isn’t afraid to try some new things even in an album geared toward such a young audience, and Ellis Paul keeps the sound of each song unique to the figure it represents. There are a few that resemble his adult style highlighting soft acoustics and clever lyrics, but we see a little edge in songs like “Martha Graham”, where the style takes a turn for the bluesy. However, the song everyone is guaranteed to have on repeat is the title track that opens the album; it serves as an overture for the thirteen tracks that follow, but stands on its own as a great toe-tapper.
Best of all, Ellis Paul’s work in The Hero In You is accessible to kids and adults alike–unlike some of the tiresome, overproduced children’s work out there today that rehash the same themes, his variety in style and topic will keep parents from sighing every time a Playground kid requests a song. By approaching children’s music as a dad and a seasoned professional, Paul knows how to both teach and engage using the style of music he’s so famous for, and this album is certainly no exception. Listen on, Playgrounders!