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Paul Thorn - What the Hell is Goin On?

Perpetual Obscurity Records

Styles: Americana, Roots Rock, Blues Rock

“Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” So says the old adage, and it’s been proven by countless blues rock artists ever since the genre began. Without “covers,” for example, Eric Clapton probably wouldn’t have brought Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” to international fame. Mississippi’s Paul Thorn may be revered for his songwriting skills, but in this follow-up to 2010’s “Pimps and Preachers,” Thorn pays tribute to some favorite songs of his that were originally performed by others. He and his touring band of 15 years (guitarist Bill Hinds, keyboard player Michael Graham, bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins) “cover” a complete range of Americana and roots-rockers, from Buddy Miller and Ray Wylie Hubbard to Foy Vance and Wild Bill Emerson.

Every tune is a surprise, and here are three of twelve that are especially zesty:
Track 2: “Snake Farm”--First written and performed by Ray Wylie Hubbard, this is a grungy ballad about a reptile-loving beauty named Ramona, who “…kind of look like Tempest Storm!” Why does she work among these hissing creatures? “Nothing to do in the winter,” she quips, “and then some kid gets bit at the snake farm!” Whether blues fans like it or not, the chorus of this song will slither into their heads! Paul Thorn’s “nasty” guitar growls and snarls with a junkyard atmosphere.

Track 9: “Bull Mountain Bridge”--This is Wild Bill Emerson’s haunting tale of Stone Fox Dan, a cannabis dealer marked for death by the cuckolded Bull Mountain Hawk. Only a hardened thug could be so chillingly nonchalant about planning a murder: “Go take him on down below the Bull Mountain Bridge. ... Break his arms and throw him in the river! If anybody asks, just tell them he committed suicide….” It’s hard to tell whether the best thing about this song is its harsh lyrics, Delbert McClinton guest vocals, infectious choir-backed chorus – Les Hillbillies des Pirates: Delaney McClinton, Kevin Welch, Danny Flowers, Etta Britt & Bob Britt, or Thorn’s fiery electric, Southern rock guitar licks!

Track 11: “She’s Got a Crush on Me”--Beginning with a slow, church-inspired organ, Donnie Fritts’ and Billy Lawson’s “Crush” is a poignant character portrait of a T-shirt factory worker who “goes to the Church of Christ, chain-smokes Camel Lights, and she’s got a crush on me….” Listeners can’t discern whether the narrator is interested in her, but he’s certainly proud that he has an admirer. The words of this ode could be the basis for a great novel!

“I wanted to take a break from myself,” reveals Paul Thorn when speaking of this album, “do something different, and just have fun.” He has accomplished everything he set out to do, and once they finish listening to its last song, blues fans won’t wonder “What the Hell is Going On?”. They’ll realize this CD’s purpose is for a great songwriter to give his true-artist, storytelling peers their proper due. If you were raised on rock and roll, you can not help but dig this music!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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