Paul Thorn: What The Hell IS Goin’ On
(Perpetual Obscurity Records)
After many albums of self-penned songs that have won high praise from artists, fans and media types alike, Paul Thorn wanted to take a break from himself. “…To do something different, and just have fun.” So that thinking gives us “What The Hell Is Goin’ On” a twelve song collection of somewhat lesser known songs from songwriters that span genres and styles.
Buddy Miller’s superb song “Shelter Me (Lord)” gets the full gospel treatment complete with soul chorus and a revivalist feel. Many of us are familiar with fine version by Tab Benoit, which was dark and stormy but this one really seems apropos of the subject matter. There seems to be an inherent understanding of the sound and feel of this style of music as Mr. Thorn’s father was a Pentecostal preacher and gospel was the only kind of music allowed in the house as a child.
I am sure his daddy would not allow him to listen to, much less sing, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”. This cover is as gritty as you would expect it to be. Some slithering slide guitar work adds just the right touch of Texas swamp snake oil applied over top of Paul’s spot on vocal treatment.
The title track, an Elvin Bishop penned classic plea for sanity features Mr. Bishop sitting in on guitar adding his signature licks to this slightly roughed up version of the song. I’m not sure if anyone else would or could cover this Big E classic tale, as evidenced by Paul’s vocalized desperation that are inherent in the lyrics.
His tripping the cobblestones styled version of Rick Danko’s “Small Town Talk”. Originally done by The Band it is set up by the simple almost light spirited organ work that makes you want to ‘jaunt’ downtown and promenade. This coupled with fine acoustic guitar work really captures the sentiment and social significance of the subject matter. What a great song and superb version thereof.
One last (I have to stop somewhere) shout out is for the Allen Toussaint R&B hear beat “Wrong Number”. Starting with a New Orleans fashioned drum roll which settles into a semi-hypnotic paced soul filled statement of loneliness and ill-fated unrequited love.
In a masterful accomplishment Mr. Thorn poignantly captures the real essence of these tunes. He choose very well indeed, often a critical mistake by artists who seem to randomly cover a song for reasons unknown. That being said, what Paul adds to each of these tracks is priceless, his innate understanding of the subject and how he transforms them into his own salient interpretations is a jewel to behold.
Cee Cee James:Blood Red Blues
This is Ms. James most skillfully produced release to date, the work of production master Jim Gaines has obviously had its intended effect on the sound that is recorded and they overall feel of the release. Does it stand up to Ms. James’ strong vocals and passionate urgings, let’s see.
Opening with the title cut, “Blood Red Blues” starts out in the swamp and goes deeper into the miasma that she conjures up with her singing and sounds from the band. Slide work sets the stage and almost chanting background vocals perfectly capture her spirit and the other spirits that are floating about in the studio itself.
Picking up the pace “Let’s All Get Loose” is a jumping invite to “strip it down close to the bone, let’s take it all off now…smash the TV and video game…” there is ample truth contained within her pleas, simple truths that will be with us forever, but we have to not ignore them, realize where we are and hat we are tied to. It is a call that is equivocal to seeking re-birth, and she states it as she sings about a river that we can all jump into and reemerge fresh new and unbridled.
Ms. James has had her share of success, and hard times. In “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues” she makes her case for her doing what she is doing. In a straight forward, bullet pointed essay on her street cred she ticks off check marks and just when you think she has overstated her case Rob ‘Slideboy’ Andrews whips the hammer of certainty from his guitar and solidifies the argument as she counts off the percentages to be applied in her case.
While the production values are outstanding they do not obliterate the deep rooted rawness that Ms. James possesses. Yes it is somewhat slicker and more polished but it is essentially Ms. James. Her song writing skills are starting to take center stage and look for them to progress even more as she allows herself to become more comfortable with herself and the entire processes involved in, and related to it.
Ms. James is not a sylph, she is a pure bred blues woman, able to rock ya, knock ya and sock it to ya on demand and in a fashion that at once is familiar but ultimately is all new. Much like ensuing result of her pleading for you to abnegate your ties that bind and emerge from the chrysalis and become the butterfly you were meant to be. Yes there is pain to thole, but well worth the outcome, for as Ms. James well knows it ain’t easy being yourself but ultimately it is more rewarding than anything else you can ever do or be.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: courtesy of artist and companies.