I was looking forward with breathful anticipation (I stop breathing for no CD) to Paul Thorn’s new album, Mission Temple Fireworks Stand, Thorn’s take on the traveling Southern tent revival culture Thorn learned so well at the side of his preacher father.
Alas, perhaps the charming and charismatic Thorn is too close to the subject as this disc comes off as everything Thorn’s classic last record was not: strained, melodically unmemorable, and given the running theme, strangely unfocused. Ah well, he’ll come back.
Since Thorn is still relatively unknown, let’s take a look at that classic previous disc, Ain’t Love Strange, arguably my favorite CD of 2000 with amazingly wise, funny, bittersweet lyrics around the theme of the weirdness of love.
Thorn’s voice is a combination of Don Dixon and Lyle Lovett with some Stax smoke in the mix, the songs a powerful blend of roots rock, ’60s southern soul, and folky storytelling. His characters live on the fringes of society and battle themselves as well as past and present lovers, but they feel deeply if not freely.
His “I Have a Good Day” is a truly great song, finding hope in tiny little increments after a crushing, humiliating breakup:
“I have a good day every now and then,
I count my blessings on one hand,
I start believing the sun will shine again,
I have good day every now and then”
The sound quality and arrangements are also top quality, all the more amazing because Thorn and co-writer Billy Maddox did the recording on their own at a tiny studio in Sulligent, Alabama, also home to their Perpetual Obscurity record label.
Thorn is a former professional middleweight boxer who once fought the great Roberto Duran. He lost and returned to music, but don’t get him mad.