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Paul Thorn: Preaching to a different choir

Paul Thorn
Paul Thorn
Paul Thorn

Enough with the navel gazing and “woe is me” sonnets that are all too prevalent these days. Singer-songwriter Paul Thorn is back with a new record, Too Blessed to Be Stressed, that he likes to describe as “the Americana Kool and the Gang.”

How’s that for a visual?

“I figured that there’s a gaping hole and an empty spot where the happy stuff needs to be,” Thorn said. “I liked them (Kool and the Gang) because all their songs were happy. They were all about having a good time. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a good time record, but all the songs on this are snippets of things that I believe that somebody that’s feeling low can put this CD on and I think it might elevate their mood a little bit and give them a little hope for the future.”

Thorn has seen enough in his lifetime – 50 years that include a stint as a pro boxer and a 1988 bout against Hall of Famer Roberto Duran – to know the bad and appreciate the good, and while he’s still the same guy who wrote “It's a Great Day to Whup Somebody's Ass,” he is taking a different approach on his seventh full-length album and first since 2012’s What the Hell Is Goin’ On?

“There’s a lot of pain in the world, and a lot of people are writing about their pain, and there’s a time for that,” Thorn explains. “But if you wallow in it for too long, it will become who you are. There’s a place for a sad song or a tearjerker, but there’s also a place for a bunch of songs that are gonna give you something. There are two kinds of music to me – music that people want to hear and music that people need to hear. And if you can capture something on record that people actually need, you’ve done it the right way. And I’m not claiming anything, but that’s what I set out to do. I didn’t know if I accomplished it or not.”

He did, but then again Thorn’s music has always been something you need to hear. In a way you can appreciate a no frills prizefighter who enters the ring puts in his rounds, puts on a show for the fans and then picks up his paycheck, Thorn is an honest songwriter and performer, something that those able to catch him at City Winery in NYC will see tonight. Yet unlike his thoughts on his boxing career, Thorn believes that in music, he can be a champion.

“Before a show, I feel comfortable,” he said. “I feel confident, I feel like I know what I’m doing, and I feel like I can bring it and that I can entertain. But when I was in boxing, I had lots of self-doubt. There were a few times I could put it together and a few fights where I really looked good and stuck with my game plan. But confidence was a big thing I didn’t have. When I fought Duran, I was in just as good a shape as him; I was probably in better shape. But he had that mental ability to relax, and he believed in himself, and that’s what I didn’t have. But I do have it on stage, and I think that’s why I’ve been able to come as far as I have in my music career, because I do believe I can compete with the best. I’m not saying I’m better than anybody but I believe I’m as good.”

That attitude comes from a life spent in music, first as a three-year-old singing in church as the son of a Pentecostal minister. Thorn preaches to a different choir than his father ever did, but he’s stayed true to himself the entire way, and that’s not about to change now.

“I don’t sing about girls; I sing about people,” he said. “There are plenty of guys with facelifts and blow-dried hair singing about girls, but that ain’t me.”

Paul Thorn pays City Winery in NYC tonight, September 3. For tickets, click here

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