Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
Mississippi bluesman Paul Thorn brings his authentic vibe to Lafayette. By David Egan
Paul Thorn is a rare and exceptional singer-songwriter who draws from a colorful palette of redneck preachers, pimps, trailer parks, firework stands and even ass-whippings on national television, while turning wickedly clever phrases and exploring fresh harmonic landscapes.
Once a boxer rated in the top 30, he fought Roberto Duran, lost, and shared an ambulance ride with Duran to the hospital, having landed a few licks of his own. Apparently, Duran didn’t knock the wits out of Paul Thorn, but rather jolted a perpetual brainstorm that would fuel him through nine albums of quality material, hungrily consumed by roots music fans nationwide and beyond.
Born in Tupelo, Miss., the son of a preacher man and the nephew of a pimp, Thorn explores the good, the bad and the in-between. He can amuse and disarm us with these crazy, country cousin tales of burning down the trailer park and shooting down the pink flamingos in the yard. But at the same time, he deals perceptively with very real and complex adult emotions. And then he’ll turn around and hit you with something so incredibly poignant and soul searching that suddenly you realize this man is much wiser than his over-the-top bumpkin accent suggests.
Listening to a double handful of Paul Thorn’s CDs, I can hear influences from across the entire spectrum of American music — from Hank Williams to Al Green — with a heavy dose of Deep South, Muscle Shoals soul. The harmonic progressions are sometimes astoundingly beautiful, constantly going where my ears don’t expect them to go. Gritty funk, romantic ballads and even sophisticated bossa novas group together well, aligned by Thorn’s visions, vocals and melodic sense.
Thorn is a strong, confident performer full of insightful stories, humor and charisma — so much so that the likes of Delbert McClinton and Elvin Bishop have been prone to jump on stage with him, apparently as drawn to him as his amorous fans.
Just short of deadline for this story, I spoke with Paul for a few minutes on the phone. Okay, maybe the bumpkin level gets cranked up a bit when he’s on a microphone, speaking to a full house during a high-energy show. Part of our visit went something like this:
EGAN: Your chord progressions are sometimes very sophisticated. Did you spend time listening to cats like Jobim and Gilberto, or did that bossa nova song just come to you intuitively?
THORN: To be honest, I don’t know who those people are. I just like melodies, and I like to sit with my guitar and find new melodies and rhythms and progressions.
EGAN: Any advice for developing songwriters who are trying to find their own voice, and find their way into the business?
THORN: There is no sure way into the business, but I would tell them, just be real. Don’t follow trends. Dig deep and be you.
We started talking about TV evangelists. Paul said he likes to watch them, the worse the better. But we’re quick to agree: Jimmy Swaggart plays some real fine piano.
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