Long admired though criminally short of famous, Paul Thorn reached a broad new audience through his participation in the recent multi-artist Jackson Browne tribute album Looking into You. Suddenly, this preacher’s son, ex-boxer and (much later) juke-joint troubadour had a AAA radio hit with his take on “Doctor My Eyes.”
A life spent away from music for too long, and another period of making his bones the old-fashioned way — with personal songs sold the personal way, on stage and via small labels — had come together in the way that it normally does: Slowly, and then all at once.
Thorn appears to have emerged feeling what any God-fearing son of the South would: Thankful. Scratch that — deeply thankful. Witness his determinedly appreciative, sweepingly inclusive, complete hoot of a current release, Too Blessed to Be Stressed.
Which isn’t to say there wasn’t always a healthy dose of humor in Thorn’s rootsy, character-driven discography. Just that it was usually was embedded in a hard-eyed, typically personal kind of instrospection. Even when he plugged in with his soul-lifting, Americana-meets-R&B brethren in the Paul Thorn Band, his music had a basic seriousness to it that reflected what was at stake in these songs. His people lived on the edge, be that the edge of a life-changing mistake, of certain financial ruin, or of salvation that could just as easily tumble into something darker.
But not here. Too Blessed to be Stress, though it certainly doesn’t lack Thorn’s sharp eye for detail, instead works with broader brush strokes — sounding less intimate, endlessly optimistic, and a hell of a lot funnier. “I Backslide on Friday” echoes with anyone (and that means everyone) who’s made a promise to do better, only to falter. He gooses his own pew-riding past in songs like the title track, “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy” and “Get You a Healin.'”
While the impish “Mediocrity is King” speaks for itself, it’s leavened with “Everything is Gonna Be All Right” — a message, like “Everybody Needs Somebody” — that we can all stand to remember when times are bad. And, as Thorn reminds us throughout Too Blessed to be Stressed (recently issued on PerpetualObscurity/Thirty Tigers), when times are good, too.