Review : Paul Thorn - What the Hell Is Goin’ On?
PopmattersThe old childhood taunt goes it takes one to know one. But no one would tease Paul Thorn because he would whoop your ass. He’s one of America’s best singer songwriters, and now he has put out an album of other people’s songs. I guess that considering his talent, Thorn should know a good song when he hears it. His own works are filled with saints, sinners and the strange whose lives cannot be viewed through the prism of the sacred or the profane. The same is true of the people he sings about on the new cover record.
At heart, Thorn is a storyteller who knows how to rock. He’s had the same band for about 15 years that features guitarist Bill Hinds, keyboard player Michael Graham, bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins. Thorn has described them as “a well-oiled machine,” which seems appropriate because the players tightly mesh with each other to create a monster sound. They form the backbone of the record and know when to let loose with a solo or to hold back and let Thorn shine forth.
And Thorn understands the importance of the song. The dozen ones he selected here share little in common except for the fact that Thorn makes them all sound cool. Some are weird. Some are sincere. Some are spiritual. Some are sad. But Thorn brings out the jewel inside each and every one of them. It’s clear that he chose them because they had a personal meaning to him that he wanted to share with listeners. That doesn’t make them heavy. Sometimes the meaning is simply that he’s horny or here’s a tale to make you squirm. That’s okay....full text
DriftwoodmagazineTupelo-born songwriter Paul Thorn’s soul streak runs deep. On What the Hell Is Going On?, he takes songs from Lindsey Buckingham; Ray Wylie Hubbard (who guests on vocals); Allen Toussaint; Buddy & Julie Miller; Elvin Bishop (who also contributes guitar); Rick Danko of the Band; Paul Rodgers (of Free); Donnie Fritts and Billy Lawson; Wild Bill Emerson; Foy Vance; Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed; and Big Al Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin and wraps them up in a big southern country blues sound that would be at home in only some of the Pentecostal churches he attended in his youth.
Every number on the album is thoroughly ensconced in Thorn’s own personality without sacrificing the versatility of the source material. So, songs like the Lindsey Buckingham-penned opener, with its pop riffs and sweeping, heavily harmonized chorus, is recognizable, but then a slide guitar solo takes the song out of the California/Brit Pop world and drags it down south. Things get really dirty on Hubbard’s “Snake Farm” (which is much closer to the original than almost any other cover on the album); “Shed a Little Light” and “Take My Love With You” are performed as secular hymns. “Wrong Number” and “She’s Got Crush on Me” are just perfect soul. Elvin Bishop’s raucous guitar on the title track is a highlight....full text
NodepressionPaul Thorn is a Mississippi bluesman whose earlier career as a boxer still echoes in his gruff growl. Though well-known for his original, biographical songs, Thorn’s sixth album is an all-covers affair. Singing the songs of other writers is a complex task, one that reflects on Thorn’s understanding of songwriting craft as well as his visceral experience as a listener. He poses this set as an opportunity to “take a break from myself,” but his selections from others’ pens say a great deal about his musical roots, influences and tastes. Most of his picks are sufficiently obscure to avoid even registering as covers for many listeners; but these are interpretations rather than explanations, and Thorn’s fans will marvel at how easily he draws these songs into his personal orbit. This is a mix tape, but one in which the mixer sings the songs rather than having lined up other people’s performances on a C90.
Thorn’s voice has a clenched, raspy edge that variously brings to mind Dr. John, Jon Dee Graham, Willy DeVille, John Hyatt, Lyle Lovett, Randy Newman, Joe Cocker, Tom Waits and even a bit of Louis Armstrong. He doesn’t sound like any one of them, but your ears will catch passing associations as he work through a wide-ranging catalog drawn from Ray Wylie Hubbard, Buddy Miller, Elvin Bishop, Allen Toussaint and others. Each recitation balances flavors from the original recordings with Thorn’s own sound, retaining the signature rolling rhythm of Lindsey Buckingham’s early “Don’t let Me Down Again” while lowering its youthful freneticism, magnifying the blue side of Free’s “Walk in My Shadow,” and giving Muscle Shoals’ legend Donnie Fritts’ “She’s Got a Crush on Me” the soul vocal it really deserves....full text
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