Monday, April 16, 2012

Paul Thorn: "What The Hell Is Goin' On?" (2012) CD Review

Paul Thorn's new CD, What The Hell Is Goin' On?, is an album of cover songs, his first such album. There's a wonderfully gritty quality to Paul's voice, which is perfect for blues rock. His is a voice with blues and soul, but also humor. And some of the song selections in this collection really highlight that sense of humor. But there is also the gorgeous and earnest "Shed A Little Light" (one of my favorite tracks), and the serious (and intense) title track. He has an excellent, tight band, and the songs are presented with a kind of immediate bluesy joy. This is a good album.

"Don't Let Me Down Again"

What The Hell Is Goin' On? opens with the Lindsey Buckingham song "Don't Let Me Down Again," which features a fun, bright, groove. The bright feel is especially due to the keyboards. This is one of the CD's best tracks, and a great way to open the album. And wouldn't we all like to say this to that special someone: "Baby, baby, don't treat me this way/I'm going to make it again someday/There's just one thing I'd like you to know/I'm going to be just fine if you go."

"Snake Farm"

"Snake Farm" is a good heavy blues number. The line "Snake farm/Just sounds nasty" always makes me laugh, and then it's followed by "Snake farm/It pretty much is." That's great. "Snake Farm" is a simple song that's completely effective and, yes, a bit silly. And if you listen on headphones, you'll hear him whisper "Snake farm" into your left ear. It's intimate and odd. The song has a strange ending. The drums fade out, and the keyboard and shaker become more prominent.

"Snake Farm" was written by Ray Wylie Hubbard, and was the title track to his 2006 release.

"Shelter Me Lord"

Tab Benoit's rendition of this song was just released on his Legacy album. Paul Thorn's version is quite different, sounding somewhat like Joe Cocker in the late 1980s (particularly in that glorious section with the backup singers). "Shelter Me Lord" was written by Buddy Miller and Julie Miller.

"What The Hell Is Goin' On"

The CD's title track is a great blues rock number written by Elvin Bishop. This song begins with the steady thump of the kick drum, before that great ripping blues guitar comes in. But it's the song's lyrics and vocals that really do it for me. It starts, "Robbing and shooting/And raping and killing/Bloody murder more or less than running airplanes into buildings/Every time I turn around, something else is going wrong/Hey hey hey, tell me what the hell is goin' on."

Paul Thorn delivers these lyrics in a voice that is part anger, part impotence ("Scared to read my paper/I can't watch TV/The world is getting way too crazy for me"). Something a lot of us feel these days. That leads him to sing, "Keep your doors all locked up real tight/Don't let your children get out of your sight/Oh boy, the good ol' days are gone/Won't somebody please tell me, what the hell is goin' on?" No one has the answer. We're all asking the question.

"Small Town Talk"

"Small Town Talk" is a sweet, reggae-flavored song. And thematically it's an interesting follow-up to "What The Hell Is Goin' On," for in this one he sings, "You can't believe everything you hear/And only half of what you see/And if you're gonna believe in anyone/Well, you gotta believe in me." Written by Rick Danko, "Small Town Talk" is one of my favorite tracks. (It feels a bit like Elvis Costello.)

"Bull Mountain Bridge"

"Bull Mountain Bridge" is a great song. It starts as a rough guitar-led tune, telling the tale of an interesting character. But it becomes truly wonderful when the backing vocalists join him for these lines: "Take him on down below the Bull Mountain Bridge/Tie his hands and throw him in the river/We might as well give him his farewell party tonight/He said knock him in the head, he's better off dead/Break his arms and throw him in the river/If anybody asks, just tell him he committed suicide." Suicide with broken arms and tied hands? Well, let's not worry about it. Once they sing the chorus, they don't go back to any verses. No need, right? Just sing that great chorus again, and again. This song is strangely fun and joyous.

"Bull Mountain Bridge" was written by Wild Bill Emerson and Martha Jo Emerson. This version features Delbert McLinton on vocals, as well as the talents of Delaney McLinton, Kevin Welch, Danny Flowers, Etta Britt and Bob Britt on backing vocals.


"Jukin'" is another fun tune, this one written by Big Al Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin. In this one, Paul sings, "Call up your sister/She come right on/Wouldn't you know she had the red dress on/I can't resist her/Girl, you know I done you wrong." Cheating has never sounded so wonderful. And of course it's the girl's fault: "If you want me to stop it, girl, you'd better get on back home." That's right, you tell her. And in the meantime, enjoy yourself. I love these lines: "I love you, baby/You know I do/But your sister wiggles just like you."

CD Track List
  1. Don't Let Me Down Again
  2. Snake Farm
  3. Shelter Me Lord
  4. Shed A Little Light
  5. What The Hell Is Goin' On
  6. Small Town Talk
  7. Walk In My Shadow
  8. Wrong Number
  9. Bull Mountain Bridge
  10. Jukin'
  11. She's Got A Crush On You
  12. Take My Love With You

Musicians appearing on this album include Paul Thorn on vocals, guitar and percussion; Bill Hinds on slide guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and backing vocals; Michael Graham on piano and organ; Ralph Friedrichsen on bass and backing vocals; and Jeffrey Perkins on drums and percussion.

What The Hell Is Goin' On? is scheduled to be released May 8, 2012 on Perpetual Obscurity Records.

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