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Paul Thorn - Pimps and Preachers

Perpetual Obscurity Records

13 tracks/51 minutes

One thing for sure – Paul Thorn has a sense of humor. The name of his record label is a wry comment on the state of his career after releasing eight recordings. It’s a good bet that all that will change with his latest effort, which shows the full scope of Thorn’s talents.

While several cuts exhibit a blues influence, this project is really a straight-ahead rock album. Thorn has knack for writing lyrics that mould simple phrases together in a manner that never fails to capture your imagination. Some people would overplay the humorous aspects of “Tequila is Good for the Heart” but Thorn’s vocal is full of regret and resignation over a failed relationship. Ringing guitar chords and Michael Graham’s sensitive piano work transform the country-tinged barroom weeper into a rousing anthem.

The title track examines Thorn’s upbringing at the hands of his father and uncle – one a man of God while the other taught him about the realities of life on the street.

The struggle is captured when he belts out the chorus – “One drug me through the darkness, one led me to the light.” On ‘Love Scar”, Thorn relates a story that came from a conversation he had backstage at the Royal Albert Hall. The title refers to a woman’s tattoo – a blue eye with a tear - that serves as a bitter reminder of a one- night stand. A similar theme drives “Buckskin Jones’ Illegitimate Son”, as razor-sharp guitar licks punctuate a son’s telling of his mother’s one true love.

Thorn’s songwriting ability is highlighted on “There’s Weeds in My Roses” as his description of the pleasures of his garden morphs into suspicions about the fidelity of his lover. The cut rocks hard with Bill Hinds and Thorn cranking out the heat on their guitars. The humor returns on “I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love”, with Thorn delivering a honest assessment of family relationships that is sure to hit home with many listeners. His earnest vocal on “Nona Lisa” perfectly captures the sense of yearning in the simple lyrics as the band lays down a performance that would make Springsteen proud.

On “You’re Not the Only One” and “You Might be Wrong”, Thorn does some preaching of his own as he utilizes two different approaches to deliver the message that life is precious. The first track features ringing guitar chords while the latter settles into a gentler groove with a strong rhythm. He delivers a message of hope on “Better Days Ahead” with a strong arrangement that starts out with a featuring a mandolin that gives way to Hinds’ slide guitar. The closing track, “That’s Life” is a soothing ballad that seems to be about a father sending a child out into the world.

In addition to Hinds and Graham, Thorn gets expert accompaniment from Doug Kahn on bass, Jeffrey Perkins on drums plus Kevin Holly and Billy Maddox on acoustic guitars. Donnie Carpenter’s fiddle playing really sets the mood on “Ray Ann’s Shoes”, a touching acoustical ballad about the break-up of a long-term relationship.

There is plenty to enjoy on this one, especially Thorn’s great songs, his expressive vocals and the band’s stellar accompaniment. It may not be blues but this one delivers an unflinching view of life with humor and Thorn’s belief that the world can be a great place to live. Don’t let this one slide by without checking it out!

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL.

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