Paul Thorn has guts. He got into a ring with Roberto Duran and went 6 rounds. He makes a living touring roadhouses and making people get up and dance to his blend of blues, rock, country, southern rock and gospel. Whatever he has, he’s earned the hard way, and my hat’s off to him.
All that said, his latest album shows a quality that often goes along with tremendous guts – poor judgment. From a guy who portrays himself as a rowdy bad boy with a heart of gold, this album is a bit too full of the heart of gold. The first three songs are a treacly trio assuring us that “Everything is Going to Be Alright”, praising family reunions with shirts announcing “Too Blessed to be Stressed” and pointing out that “Everybody Needs Somebody.” And, no, those titles are neither ironic nor mere set-ups for a darker edge.
Paul Thorn is a charmer, but there has always been an edge to him. He’s good looking, has a southern accent, and he’s the sort who would win a bar fight and talk the preacher’s wife into going home with him. His best work portrays a good man struggling with his inner bad nature. In this album, the good side has mostly won, and you start to wonder if his next song will be about cuddly puppies or snuggly kittens.
Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin takes a far less jaded eye to the album. She gushes about how sweet he is, and flat-out challenges anybody to not like him. She also points out that he is a truly great live performer, which is absolutely true, and reminisces about the first time we saw him at Knucklehead’s. Perhaps Robin is too darned nice, and actually enjoys sweet, uncomplicated songs about the nice things in life.
In a Rolling Stone interview, here’s what he had to say about the dark place these songs come from: "The songs on Too Blessed to Be Stressed come from little nuggets of wisdom that friends and strangers alike have shared with me," Thorn says. "This project became an opportunity for me to pay it forward." Good God, my rowdy friend has gone soft.
Some of his later songs reflect the more ambiguous and troubling side of him that I prefer. “I Backslide on Friday” is a fun, though cutesy confession, and the following break-up song “This is a Real Goodbye” finally includes the phrase “Kiss my ass” to you finally get a song that doesn’t belong in Church more than a roadhouse.
The worst song on the album is unironically titled “Mediocrity is King.” It’s a rousing ditty designed to get a crowd to sing along, but it 10 pounds of mediocre in a 5 pound sack. I realize that the average dolt drinking Bud Light at a roadhouse is going to sing along and shake his fist in the air to lyrics like “Republicans and Democrats are breaking my heart/I can’t tell them sons of bitches apart”, but that sort of pseudo-populist crap just sticks in my craw. Really, Paul, you can’t tell them apart, in the most divisive political era I’ve lived through? That’s just stupid.
The strongest song on that album reflects the “struggling sinner” persona best. In “Old Stray Dogs and Jesus”, the singer mourns the death of his pot dealer whose head got chopped off by a Mexican cartel. It’s a good song, and I look forward to seeing him perform it.
Another great song lacks the edge I look for in Paul Thorn songs, but “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be” is a sweet love song, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
All in all, this is a nice album that is a little too nice, but, with the exception of the moronic political commentary in one song, it’s inoffensive and enjoyable in small doses. But, by all means, get yourself to one of his shows, and I promise you will be a fan of the live Paul Thorn.
Next up: Art Official Age, by Prince