Review: Paul Thorn – What The Hell Is Goin On?

Posted on: Friday, Jun 22, 2012


Paul Thorn – What The Hell Is Goin On?

(Perpetual Obscurity Records)

So which way do you go when you’ve just had your most successful release? – the excellent “Pimps And Preachers” – in the case of Wisconsin-born, Mississippi-based singer and writer Paul Thorn, you make a bit of a brave move and release a 12-track covers album, “What The Hell Is Goin On?”, but with immaculate song choices from some well-known writers, and some lesser-known – but it’s the sound of a man and his band having fun!

Aided by his excellent band – Bill Hinds (guitars & backing vocals), Michael Graham (keyboards), Ralph Friedrichsen (bass & backing vocals) and Jeffrey Perkins (drums) – together with his own greasy, gritty and soulful vocals and guitar – the gamble definitely has paid off; an added bonus being a guest vocal from the great Delbert McClinton, and guitar from Elvin Bishop on the title cut.

The album gets off to a somewhat funky, strutting start with Lindsey Buckingham’s “Don’t Let Me Down Again” – recorded with Stevie Nicks as part of the Buckingham Nicks duo, before mega-stardom beckoned with Fleetwood Mac . . . with some lovely slide guitar from Bill Hinds, who also stars on the following Ray Wylie Hubbard tune, “Snake Farm”, a swampy blues penned by the Texas-based troubadour, and fine vocal from Paul Thorn.

The pace drops for the gospel-tinged and soulful “Shelter Me Lord”, a Buddy Miller/Julie Miller tune, featuring some sterling work from Michael Graham on keyboards, and more top slide guitar from Bill Hinds. The title cut, Elvin Bishop’s “What The Hell Is Goin On?”, features the writer himself on trademark slide guitar . . . the tune riding on a great guitar groove and tough vocal from Paul Thorn.

Thorn and the band take on the late Rick Danko’s “Small Town Talk”, which featured on The Band’s bass players solo debut album, and rock nicely on Free’s “Walk In My Shadow” . . . highlighting the diversity of material here from r&b, rock, blues, soul and more. They get soulful again on Allen Toussaint’s “Wrong Number”, which was beautifully recorded by the New Orleans legend Aaron Neville and done justice here in fine style, with another superb Thorn vocal and ably backed by the band.

Wild Bill Emerson’s “Bull Mountain Bridge” is a strutting country rocker, with the afore-mentioned Delbert McClinton helping out on the vocals. They stay in similar territory for the thumping “Jukin'”; before the sublime “She’s Got A Crush On Me” – a Donnie Fritts/Billy Lawson song – with heartfelt vocal and classic Southern soul feeling, again given a gospelly feel by Michael Graham’s keyboards. The terrific closer is the rollicking “Take My Love With You” from the pen of new r&b sensation, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed, an uptempo romp to close proceedings.

Thorn may have his foot mainly in the Americana camp, but his Southern upbringing ensures his music is pretty diverse as previously mentioned, and means he plays some of the big American blues festivals, where the crowds, I’m sure,  lap up the fact he is a little bit different stylistically. “What The Hell Is Goin On?” is a most enjoyable collection from start to finish, that I’m sure will appeal to all.



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