An interesting thing happened on Paul Thorn’s road to recording a follow-up to his most successful release, 2010’s Pimps and Preachers. After writing many discs of semi-autobiographical tunes that have drawn comparisons to John Hiatt and John Prine, the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter - hailed as the “Mark Twain of Americana” - decided to take a detour and do an album of covers. “I wanted to take a break from myself,” Thorn reveals, “do something different, and just have fun.”
The collection, entitled What The Hell Is Goin’ On? (due May 8, on Perpetual Obscurity/Thirty Tigers) finds Thorn putting his own gritty rock stamp on some of his favorite songs. There are some names familiar to Americana fans (Buddy Miller, Ray Wylie Hubbard), some lesser-known (Foy Vance, Wild Bill Emerson) and some surprises. The Buckingham/Nicks tune “Don’t Let Me Down Again” originated on that duo’s debut, not during the Fleetwood Mac era, while the Free song that Thorn chose to cover is an obscure one, “Walk In My Shadow.”
Thorn selected tunes that meant something important to him. “I would hear them in the tour van or I’d be at a festival and see someone perform them live,” Thorn says, “and I'd say ‘That’s a great song, I wish I had written it!’” One thing the songwriters have in common according to Thorn is that they are true artists. “They don’t just write songs in an effort to become popular or follow trends,” he explains. “At the risk of sounding corny, they write with their hearts. None of these songs are cookie-cutter tunes like you hear on the radio today. They all have real depth, which is very appealing to me.”
This set of songs covers subjects that are familiar territory to Thorn, from the spiritual pull of Miller’s “Shelter Me Lord” to the spirited fun in Big Al Anderson’s “Jukin’”. Thorn, so skilled with his own character studies, plays storyteller with such lurid tales as Hubbard’s “Snake Farm” and Emerson’s “Bull Mountain Bridge.” Emerson (who has written for George Jones and Tammy Wynette) is someone, according to Thorn, who “can tell a story in a song like nobody else.”
What The Hell Is Goin’ On? also delivers songs of love and salvation. Vance’s “Shed A Little Light” and Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s “Take My Love With You” are emotionally powerful tunes that really resonated in Thorn. The latter particularly expresses Thorn’s feelings about being on the road and missing his family back home: “Being a touring musician is a blessing and a curse…and Eli put into words what I feel like sometimes.”
What The Hell’s centerpiece is the powerful title track, a blistering look at life in modern times that was penned by blues-rock icon Elvin Bishop. Its message really hits home with Thorn. “We are living in a new world where people are very connected, but also at the same time are disconnected,” Thorn states. “I believe technology in moderation is good but too many folks are walking around wearing ear phones and some have forgotten the lost art of basic social skills.”
The song also is significant because he has developed a friendship with Bishop over the years. “I sometimes visit him at his house when I’m out in California and he always gives me a jar of his homemade jelly that he makes with fresh kiwis from his garden.” Thorn recalls. “He sang this song for me on his front porch one day and it blew me away.” It was also a treat for Thorn to have Bishop perform a guitar solo on the tune – which Thorn describes as “wonderfully raw and dirty.” Other special guests on the album are Delbert McClinton (another Thorn idol) and the marvelous singing McCrary Sisters.
The heavy lifting on the album, however, was done by Thorn and, as usual, his touring band (guitarist Bill Hinds, keyboard player Michael Graham, bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins). “The guys in this outfit are a tight unit and a well-oiled machine,” Thorn proclaims. “I’ve had the same guys in my band for goin' on 15 years and they are incredible musicians.” Another long-time collaborator is Billy Maddox, who Thorn describes as a “genius in the studio,” and who served as What The Hell’s producer. The sense of camaraderie between Thorn, his band and the producer contributes to the disc’s loose, live performances. The lived-in quality is undoubted aided by the fact that Thorn and the band had already played these songs live and honed them into what Thorn calls “crowd-pleasers.”
Thorn has been pleasing crowds for years with his muscular brand of roots music – bluesy, rocking and thoroughly Southern, yet also speaking universal truths. The Tupelo, MS native worked in a furniture factory, jumped out of airplanes, and was professional boxer before sharing his experiences to the world as a singer-songwriter. His last album, Pimps & Preachers, which topped the Americana charts for 3 weeks and broke into the Billboard Top 100, perfectly exemplified the vivid scope of his songwriting but also his family background. While his father is a Church of God Pentecostal minster, his uncle (his father’s brother) spent time as a pimp - and Thorn was influenced by both of these men. Mining these ‘saint and sinner’ scenarios, Thorn crafted a disc that All Music Guide lauded as “a great rock & roll album,” while the Nation labeled it “an incredible find.”
When Thorn and his band hit the road, he’ll be performing both his captivating originals and these favored covers, because, as he states, “there are so many great writers out there whose songs need to be heard.” Thorn also might slip in a new song or two as he already has started writing more songs of his own for the next album.
Shari Puorto: Currently residing in Los Angeles Shari Puorto is “a soulful singer with a sexy and raspy sound. Her Live performances immediately brings Janis Joplin to mind. Like Joplin, Puorto is a passionate performer with an energy that can rattle the foam in a pint of Pilsner.” Kevin, Pubclub.com Who is Shari Puorto? Combine Melissa Ethridge, Etta James, Bonnie Rait, and the soul of Janis Joplin. You would think Shari’s been doing this forever. She has the sensibility of an old soul reborn and is undeniably passionate. She possesses a deeply expressive and soulful voice. One that catches you off guard! She is a powerful and dynamic live performer who quickly and quite naturally connects with her audience. Her infectious enthusiasm overcomes you, you have no choice but to get pulled in. (She's likely to steal your heart if you get too close!). Her intensity and warm nature shines through her singing and performances.
Tommy Castro Band:
Award-winning guitarist/vocalist/songwriter and Alligator Records recording artist Tommy Castro has been playing his signature brand of rocking rhythm and blues professionally for over 25 years, thrilling fans around the world with his incendiary live performances. With his new, stripped-down, turbo-charged band The Painkillers, Castro has embarked on the next phase of his storied career.
Along with original Tommy Castro Band bassist Randy McDonald, new members Byron Cage on drums and James Pace on keyboards, Castro pares his music down to its tough, raw core. Formed in February 2012,Tommy Castro & The Painkillers have been tearing up the road ever since. "The Painkillers are very soulful and talented musicians with tireless energy that make me feel like I did when I first came on the scene," says Castro. "A lot of folks are having hard times these days, and they need something to lift them up and make them smile. Our music kills the pain."