It's been 17 years since Paul Thorn burst onto the Americana music scene with his debut album "Hammer and Nail." Since that time, despite his self-deprecating claim to have "no hits", Thorn has built an increasingly large audience among Americana faithful drawn to his often hilarious live shows. Now Thorn returns with his seventh studio album, "Too Blessed to Be Stressed", his first full album of original material since 2010, out Aug. 19 on Perpetual Obscurity/Thirty Tigers Records.
If "Too Blessed to Be Stressed" sounds too much like a trite catch phrase, you're obviously not familiar with Paul Thorn's body of work. He's made his career taking bumper sticker fodder and turning them into something special. It's no surprise the album's title track is the album's standout song. The lyrics tread familiar waters for Thorn, telling stories of oddballs who probably don't factor into any proper church membership roster but find their happiness, and their salvation, in the every day.
But for once, it's not the lyrics that carry this song. "Too Blessed to Be Stressed" shines from the dual attack of Thorn's stellar backing band and some all-star background vocal help. Musically, this is by far the funkiest thing Paul Thorn ever put out. Long time Paul Thorn guitarist Bill Hinds sounds like he's channeling "Brick House" era Commodores with his fat licks and keyboardist Michael Graham dances the delicate balance between gospel and soul music. Vocally, the song hits you like a train from the cold opening, courtesy of the best background group in music today, The McCrary Sisters. It's impossible not to bop along singing "too blessed to be stressed!" while listening to those ladies belt.
The lyrical standout of the album is "I Backslide on Friday." It's Paul Thorn at his best; humorous, self-deprecating, and telling truths that everyone can relate to. As he says in the album's press release "I know I'm not the only one who says he's going to diet and just eat Blue Bell Ice Cream on Sundays, but end up eating it every day!" It's this complete lack of self-righteousness that makes Paul Thorn a favorite with people who dislike anything even mildly religious.
Other strong numbers include "Mediocrity is King", where Thorn bemoans everything from big box stores to politicians to reality show musicians to its counterpart "Everything's Gonna Be Alright", with its celebration of life's simple pleasures like "eating fried chicken and mama's cornbread." But truly, there isn't a dud on the entire album.
At this point, saying Paul Thorn put out a great album is kind of like saying "water is wet." If you're already a fan of Paul Thorn's music, there's nothing here that's going to do anything but reinforce that love. If you're unfamiliar, it's a good jumping on point to one of Americana's most consistent artists. And if you only know Paul Thorn from his Morning Zoo radio favorite "Great Day to Whup Somebody's Ass", then a listen to "Too Blessed to Be Stressed" is a great introduction to the wider world of Paul Thorn.