Tupelo, Mississippi’s Paul Thorn has a knack for synthesis. His father was a Pentecostal preacher, so Thorn grew up with gospel, but he noticed that, in his own words, “white people sang gospel like it was country music, and the black people sang it like it was rhythm & blues,” and a mix of the two gospel styles — with some gutbucket blues, old-time rock & roll, a sharp pop sense, and a gift for good old storytelling thrown in — pretty aptly describes Thorn’s own brand of inspirational roots rock. Like the professional boxer he once was, he drives his music home with patience, skill, and purpose, putting his own restless energy at the heart of things. This set of originals, which follows 2012’s What the Hell Is Goin’ On?, an album of covers, finds Thorn at his best, and no song here even comes close to being filler. Thorn writes about his native South and its characters with incisiveness, and that old Saturday night/Sunday morning split between the secular and the sacred has always been his favorite theme, the notion that you can mess up, fall from grace, and then still find some kind of personal redemption is what makes Thorn’s blend of gospel country rock and R&B sound so naturally joyous. There are several wonderful tracks here, from the opener, the easy-shuffling “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” to “I Backslide on Friday,” a fun and infectious ode to good intentions and procrastination. Thorn has been touring and recording with this same set of musicians for two decades, and the tightness and graceful, funky garage rock versatility of the band shows on the melodic country-pop gem “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy” and “Old Stray Dogs & Jesus,” a Tom Waits-like swampy blues that morphs into a full-blown country honky tonk tune with easy charm. Thorn was born in the cradle of rock & roll, which is also the cradle for modern gospel, blues, R&B, soul, and so much else that has gone into American pop music. He gets it. He gets how it should all go together, and like a boxer with a keen eye, he hits it solidly here.
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