Perpetual Obscurity Records 2014
11 tracks; 44 minutes.
Paul Thorn has established a reputation in blues circles in recent years though his music is not really blues. In that way he is similar to John Hiatt, another outstanding singer/songwriter who produces music that is of interest to blues fans while staying outside the usual zones of shuffles, slow blues and 12-bars. Indeed, the comparison with John Hiatt stands up when listening to this excellent album, not least in Paul’s voice and nowhere is that comparison clearer than on the opening track “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” with its ringing guitars and rousing chorus.
For this album Paul used his touring band and they provide great support throughout. Bill Hinds is on guitar, Michael ‘Dr Love’ Graham on keys, Ralph Friedrichsen on bass and Jeffrey Perkins on drums. Paul restricts himself to lead vocals apart from some guitar on one track and The McCrary Sisters add backing vocals to three cuts, producer Billy Maddox adding some handclaps/snaps to a couple of the tunes. Paul has a good sense of humour and that is evident on several of the songs here, as well as in the title of his record label, Perpetual Obscurity! Paul wrote all the material here bar one song, Ralph assisting on one and producer Billy Maddox on two.
The title track is a good example of what Paul’s music is about. With the McCrary sisters in full gospel mode Paul celebrates a few incidents in which the characters are saved (a young mother who finds a decent man to replace her neglectful man) as well as showing us his sense of humour: “they all wear the same red T-shirts. On the front it says these five words: too blessed to be stressed”. “Everybody Needs Somebody” starts as a gentle tune which celebrates what love can do to us all – “a little love can put a smile on your face” – before a joyous chorus delivers the title line.
For this album Paul intended to write songs that were not personal but “I Backslide On Fridays” certainly is personal, as the chorus explains: “I sin on Saturday, I repent on Sunday. The I tell myself I won’t procrastinate on Monday, Tuesday I do like I should, Wednesday I do pretty good. Thursday Paul drops the ball then I backslide on Friday”. Paul’s intentions are to be a good guy but sometimes fails to meet his high expectations, all this played to a country rock tune.
A serious note appears in “This Is A Real Goodbye” in which Paul sings of this not being a joke, the relationship really is over. This one is as close to a blues as we get on the album though the harmonies (Paul multi-tracked) keep it light and tuneful. Paul keeps on a serious tone in his critique of modern life “Mediocrity Is King”, railing against some of the injustices today: “In this crazy world we all abide a wise man walks and a foolish man rides. They manufacture stars on a TV stage, Johnny Cash couldn’t get arrested today”. Large supermarkets driving out the small stores, politicians of both main parties, they all get lambasted in this song which is played at a mid-pace with some excellent harmonies from Paul and Bill, who also contributes a strong solo.
In contrast “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You Of Your Joy” takes a phrase of Paul’s grandfather to send a message to us all to follow our dreams and not let others’ criticisms get to us. This one is played at a slow pace with plenty of acoustic guitars, even harmonium in the mix!
The McCrary sisters return on the sole cover “Get You A Healin’”, their gospel tones well suited to the handclapping, almost religious revival feel of the song which was written by New Orleans songwriter and producer Carlo J Ditta. Shifting styles and topics again on “Old Stray Dog And Jesus” which recounts life at the bottom as the narrator bemoans the death of an old friend who supplied his drugs, leaving him scratching around for a high, on this occasion supplied by some old aircraft modelling glue! As he concludes, “this old stray dog and Jesus are all the friends I’ve got”, the guitar crafting a suitably country tone for the tune.
“What Kind Of Roof Do You live Under?” is the question on the penultimate track as Paul wonders how well protected we are in times of difficulty. A rocking track, again in Hiatt territory musically, has the Sisters reinforcing Paul’s questions on the chorus and another fine solo from Bill in the middle. Closing track “No Place I’d Rather Be” must be another personal song as Paul tells of life at home with his family, his wife Heather receiving a nice tribute in the sleevenotes.
This is a fine album, well played and well-crafted songs. For those unfamiliar with Paul Thorn’s music this makes a good place to star and if you like what you hear Paul’s website shows a large number of earlier recordings available. Hard to see this guy remaining in ‘perpetual obscurity’ for long!