American folk music has gone through at least three revivals over the past 50 years. The first took place in the early '60s, when urban cowboys appropriated backwoods traditions and created the literate, socially aware style most of us are familiar with. Most recently, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom spearheaded the freak-folk movement, where drugs are decidedly not optional. In between, there was a fertile if relatively unknown period in the early '90s that spawned the "Boston School" of singer-songwriters, whose music was marked by provocative, well-read, and urbanely romantic lyrics. Ellis Paul was the darling of this group.
Now 14 albums into his career, Paul has become something of an institution. His dozen-plus Boston Music Awards and frequent appearances at the esteemed Woody Guthrie and Kerrville Folk festivals have cemented his place in the canon of noteworthy American songwriters of the past half-century. On his latest album, The Dragonfly Races (a children's record), he combines earnest storytelling with a sense of generation-spanning playfulness (just like Woody Guthrie did back in the day). The title track relates the story of a lazy bug that ends up snagging first place in a race. It doubles as Paul's message to kids and parents alike: Everyone struggles, but a little determination goes a long way. Spoken like a true folkie.