ALBUM review

by Ryan Snyder

PAUL THORN — What the Hell Is Going On?

You can tell a lot about someone by what’s intheir record collection. There’s an authentic senseof kinship that comes from sharing musical tastes,but what that someone plays for you out of theircollection is more revealing. On Paul Thorn’s sixthstudio album What the Hell Is Going On? he setsaside his character-driven narratives for a dozenrather obscure selections from great artists. Hisambling interpretation of the Buckingham Nicks joint“Don’t Treat Me This Way” has less of the skatingrink-anthem pluck than the original, but its syrupymelody set against his imperious, gristly voice gives ita bewildered personality all its own. It’s a fi sh out ofwater on this album, as the rest of the album leansheavily toward the soulful, lick-driven sound of DelbertMcClinton from whom Thorn draws his closestcomparisons. He actually brings McClinton on boardfor the album’s best song, “Bull Mountain Bridge,” aSouthern-rock bootlegger biography with a powerfulsense of swing. Thorn’s always been a prettytasteful player and there’s hardly a wasted noteon the album, particularly as Ray Wylie Hubbard’s“Snake Farm” remains truer to the original than anyother, a roiling swamp rocker that’s as heavy as thebayou heat in July. He slows down Free’s “Walk In MyShadow” a half a beat to bring the genre fence-sitterunmistakably over to the blues side, but again, itsounds compact and expertly executed. As fun asa listen as this album is, the real pleasure comes industing o’ the originals, as most are going to fi ll inholes in someone’s record collection. That’s probablywhat Thorn had in mind from the beginning.


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