On What the Hell is Goin’ On,’ blue-eyed Soul singer, Paul Thorn, pretty much knows what’s going on with this latest outing. It is a warm-embrace for some of best and often most overlooked songwriters of the last four decades including Jackie DeShannon, Donnie Fritts, Ray Wylie Hubbard and even the mostly forgotten pre-Fleetwood Mac duo, 1973’s Buckingham Nicks(“Don’t Let Me Down Again”).
The highest praise for this new album is the consistency of style with which Thorn executes each song. If we didn’t know better, for those familiar with Thorns work over the last 15 years, we’d swear these were original songs. Rather, he has dug deep into the American canon of songs tucked away for decades to bring fresh and soulful interpretations of songs like “Walk in My Shadow,” by the 60’s blues-rock band, Free and “Jukin’ by Al Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin. He’s even brought us Wylie Lama’s now classic “Snake Farm,” like a little added chocolate.
The title track perfectly puts Thorn in the role of prophet, preacher and rock and roll hound on this fine new Elvin Bishop song which benefits from lead guitar work from Bishop himself. The sweet soul punch of the Rick Danko, Bobby Charles tune, “Small Town Talk,” and Jackie Deshanon’s “Your Baby is a Lady,” feels like a bit of relief amidst the blister and blues of much of the record.
But Thorn doesn’t stray from his main theme of the tension between the secular and the sacred underscored especially well his last album, Pimps and Preachers. Buddy Miller’s “Shelter Me,” brings us back to church front and center with its southern-gospel-blues edge perfectly suited for Thorns vocal attack.
One thing becomes clear, there is not a wasted note on What the Hell is Going On. Donnie Fritts, who’s been contributing songs to legendary songwriters since Thorn was knee-high to a grasshopper in Billy Joe Shaver’s backyard, is covered with southern wit and grace on the song, “She’s Got a Crush on Me.” Wild Bill Emerson’s “Bull Mountain Bridge” brings this collection to a funky peak a delta gospel feel worthy of Tony Joe White at his dirtiest delta best.
Produced by collaborator, Billy Madox, the album retains the funky bluesy driver throughout with a feel that’s as loose as it needs to be to give the songs and Thorn’s voice room to breathe. The instrumentation provided by his tour band including guitarist Bill Hinds, keyboard player Michael Graham, bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins, bring their considerable roadhouse feel to the nuance and the nastiness in each song. Just in case the proceedings become too nasty, the sweet soul of the McCrary Sisters brings in the feel of gospel angels when needed. Their work here is especially transcendent considering the intentional hard-edge of the production.
As this album climbs up the Americana charts, Paul Thorn continues to bring the funk and soul with a revivalist preacher’s passion while paying tribute to the songwriters who influenced him and deserve the embrace of his voice.
Paul Thorn “What the Hell is Going On?” (Official Music Video)
For more information on Paul Thorn, visit: http://www.paulthorn.com