Gregory Paul’s story is probably similar to a thousand other musicians in this country. The Rochester, NY native wants nothing more than to play music, and he’s been working at it for 20 years now, performing with one band or another and developing a strong solo career at the same time. He became well respected in his small city and toured regularly on the college circuit. He’s even had music used in the last Winter Olympic television broadcast from his band the Autumndivers. In short, he’s talented and hard working, but widespread recognition has been slow and sporadic.
I’ve seen Paul play in Rochester a handful of times, but only recently have I come to fully appreciate the depth of this artist’s talents. It was probably the Autumndivers’ latest modern rock take on a shoegaze sensibility of their self-titled 2004 album that sold me, and that was buoyed by some absolutely astounding solo shows as well as Paul’s addition to local favorites Hinkley.
While Paul has always mixed some use of guitar and vocal effects into his music, past solo efforts have leaned toward the Elliott Smith singer/songwriter approach. While those songs were good, Paul shows off a completely unique approach on Awake from the Flash, combining elements of folk, singer/songwriter, psychedelic, shoegaze, and experimentalism, while never losing his pop foundation. At the heart of his music is his acoustic guitar, with which he uses a variety of effects. It makes for a grandiose album of sweeping guitars, gorgeous vocals, and emotional beauty that I never expected.
Paul’s versatile Jeff Buckley-esque vocals especially shine on “I Still Feel,” a gorgeous song that also showed up on the Autumndivers’ album in a different version. One of the most powerful tracks on the album is “A Walking Fire,” which has a “Battle of Evermore” (Led Zeppelin) style intro but quickly overwhelms with its gorgeous vocals and guitars. The singer/songwriter side of Paul comes through on tracks like “Lost Diamond” quiet, acoustic-guitar led with haunting strings in the background, and the quietly moody “Silly Dream.” And “Diver and Child” would fit nicely into the new folk movement highlighted by bands like Devendra Banhart. By contract, other tracks are more experimental, like the swirling “Burn Fast Burn Bright,” which uses some nice vocal effects, looping, and sampling of sounds.
It’s remarkable that Gregory Paul is able to recreate the effect-laden approach on stage as well as on album, and a couple of shows accompanied by a violinist floored me with their beauty. While Paul has been appreciated on a local scale, I can only hope that a strong solo album like Awake from the Flash helps his music reach an even broader audience.