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The Thorns

From the Department of Who-the-Hell-Came-up-with-This? comes the Thorns (Aware Records), an alternapop updating of the harmonically mellow soft rock sound of the 70’s Comprised of Matthew “Girlfriend” Sweet, Shawn “Lullaby” Mullins & Pete “No, I Don’t Know Who He Is Either” Droge, the Thorns sound like something you could’ve heard in 1971 – when the Beach Boys were singing about canyon life for their new Brother Records label and Stephen Stills was bemoaning his failed relationship with blue-eyed Judy Collins.
First time I heard of the new group project, I wasn’t too thrilled. I’ve enjoyed Sweet’s pop-rock work, in particular – especially the guitar zoomers done with sharp guys Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine – but country soft-rock was a whole different proposition. Without sufficient punch, Sweet’s music can sound pretty squishy to these ears: I don’t much like Neal Young without Crazy Horse either.
Listening to the deliberate opening track, “Runaway Feeling,” with its slowly strummed dulcimer and incongruous references to a “rock ‘n’ feeling” (this is way too draggy to be calling up r-‘n’-r), I suspected my worst fears’d been realized. This was like CSN on Quaaludes: divine chorus harmonies or not, there’s a point where you can definitely overdo the low-key acoustic thing. Then the boys got into cut two, “I Can’t Remember,” a romantic ballad that sounds like something you would’ve heard alongside “Bad Time” on one of those Have A Nice Decade collections.

I was almost ready to give up on the disc when the group launched into a perfectly respectable cover of the Jayhawks’ “Blue” (hey, didn’t those guys do a version of “Bad Time” once?) This ain’t bad, the hidden mellowhead inside me opined, and it continued to repeat that phrase when the disc slid into its “Teach Your Children” update, “Think It Over.”
Despite my most firmly held rocker snobbery, I found myself getting into the music’s laid-back vibe. When the moderately up-tempo “Thorns” charged out of my speakers, I’d abandoned all my pre-set critical notions. Okay, I conceded, there’s still a place for this type of “Long Sweet Summer Night” (title of the group’s most Carl Wilson-esque song) music.
Even found myself keying into “No Blue Sky” and Mullins’ earnest vocals (the song even includes Paul Buckmaster strings!) Man, am I a sap! What’s next? A personal reconsideration of Eric Carmen’s solo career?
Might as well admit it: I’ve got a soggy affection for this material imbedded deep within me. Love the mild surprise of the quick psychedelic guitar break in “Dragonfly,” the way the trio captures Cali dynamics on “Summer Nights” (dig that crazy Theremin sound!), Sweet’s cool pop vocal yearning on “I Told You” and actual mid-tempo rocker “I Set the World on Fire.” In addition to core Thorns, you get reliably solid support from studio pros like drummer Jim Keltner and keyboarder Roy Bittan. No point in resisting – where’d I stow my old wind chimes, anyway?
In the end, the Thorns’ debut (can you have a debut when you’ve been around for years?) succeeds on its own calculatedly modest terms. Wouldn’t want to see the boys make a career out of this, but I also wouldn’t mind catching one of these cuts on the radio this summer. But I hear word one about Ambrosia or England Dan & John Ford Coley reuniting, I’m taking back every nice thing I’ve said about this disc. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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