Mississippi singer-songwriter Paul Thorn returns with his first album of originals in four years. His previous album, What the Hell is Goin’ On?, was stocked with cover songs that essayed Thorn’s finely selected influences and showed off his talent for interpretation. Returning to his own pen, Thorn’s taken a broader tack in his songwriting. Where his earlier albums tended to autobiography, his latest collection makes a purposeful reach for more universal and upbeat themes. There’s personal inspiration in each of these songs, but rather than telling the story of a specific situation, Thorn’s dug to each story’s roots to express thoughts and feelings that resound easily with each listener’s own life.
These songs show Thorn to be an optimist, rather than a Pollyanna. His protagonists look to the sunny side, but they see storms and expect a cloud break rather than an endless stretch of clear weather. He anticipates the healing cures for loneliness rather than cataloging its pains, and he’s a clear-eyed romantic who sheds no tears with his goodbyes. As the album’s title states, Thorn is “Too Blessed to Be Stressed,” and he advises that you “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy.” That latter message neatly extends into a self-directed resolution as the moral lapse of “I Backslide on Friday” is redeemed by Saturday’s reprieve and Sunday’s repentance.
The optimism fades into the exasperation of “Mediocrity’s King,” as Thorn laments the commonness of superstores and oppositional politics, and in its unstated subtext, an apathetic electorate whose dreams of progress have turned into a voracious appetite for cheap prices and mindless entertainment. Thorn’s gruff, blue-soul vocals are weary but hopeful, and the album’s potpourri of soul, funk, gospel, country and rock recalls the hey-day of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, without ever imitating either one. The road-hewn band finds many deep grooves, and Thorn sings with a smile that shines on you with an optimistic glow. [©2014 Hyperbolium]