Too Blessed to Be Stressed by Paul Thorn (Album of the Week)

paul thorn

Album: Too Blessed to be Stressed

Artist: Paul Thorn

Year: 2014

Details: 11 songs; 44 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

I challenge anyone to not like Paul Thorn. I would recommend that you get to know him through a live performance, but I think that that this week’s album could make a fan out of a new listener. I came to Paul Thorn by accident. We had gone to a concert to see Slaid Cleaves, a singer that Dan really likes. It so happened that this guy named Paul Thorn was headlining. Within minutes of taking the stage, I was won over. His stage charisma is the best I have ever witnessed. The stories that he tells between songs are almost as good as the songs themselves – and that is saying a lot. SInce that first performance, I have seen him many a time. Each show is a delight.

Choosing Paul Thorn’s new album as our album of the week was my excuse to listen to music that I pretty much knew I would enjoy. Mission accomplished. It was a fun to fill my ears the last couple weeks with lines like:

I sin on Saturday / I repent on Sunday / Then I tell myself I won’t procrastinate on Monday / Tuesday I do like I should / Wednesday I do pretty good / Thursday Paul drops the ball / I backslide on Friday

The title of the album might suggest that this album has a religious bent. Well, in a way, yes it does, but it is not in a preachy way. Paul Thorn always  is walking the saint/sinner line and he singing about that journey. His daddy was a preacher and an uncle was a pimp. He crafts that dichotomy into story songs that reflect his failure to live up to expectation, but his wonder of the crazy world that he gets to get about in. He enjoys life. He enjoys being naughty, but the sweetness of his core is never in doubt.

Dan seems to think that the naughty side of Paul has been put away with this album, and that he surrenders too fully to the sweet. I think that Dan is too harsh with his critique.

In the 11 songs that make up this album you get a good portrait of the artist. The title song is all about the gift that life is – even when there is much that isn’t that sweet that happens. His southern drawl and his lyrics, backed by a gospel choir, organ, and bluesy guitars brings the message across in a manner that would be as natural in a church as it would be in a honky tonk bar.

One song laments the fact that his drug dealer is dead and the only friends he has left is an old stray dog and Jesus. Mediocrity is King pointedly describes our current political system where a wise man walks and a foolish man rides. And the album closes with a valentine to home – No Place I’d Rather Be.

There have been some albums that we have listened to during this year of listening and reviewing that I struggle to understand the words or the meanings. With Paul Thorn, there is no struggle. Listening is like sitting down over a beer and hearing what is going on with him. You just happen to get pieces of his life in song format. It’s pretty darn enjoyable.

Next Up: Art Official Age by Prince


Last Week’s Good Things

Image1.  Paul Thorn at Knuckleheads – Paul Thorn is from Tupelo, Mississippi. He plays guitar and sings songs about the good, bad, ugly, sad and funny. He once fought Roberto Duran. When he comes to Kansas City, a one night show isn’t enough. He stays and plays three. Friday night was our third time going to hear Paul at Knuckleheads. The first time we saw him we were there to see the opening act. It was good, but we then got the gift of being introduced to a story-telling, charismatic, southern drawling, song master. Once again, I fell under his spell. I will spending my coming weeks with his songs in my ears and a smile on my face.

2. Rain in the Morning – A couple of mornings this week, I woke up to the sound of rain and an occasional rumbling of thunder. That is the best! It makes the morning darker. It makes the bed cozier. I still had to get up and get myself ready for work this week, but there was that pleasure of lingering in bed a few more minutes listening to the rain hit the window.

3. Grits – I like washing dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher and I really don’t mind (other than I would like a place to hide dirty dishes until they do get washed). I like washing dishes because it is a quiet and calming. The same pleasure that I get from washing dishes I get from other activities that require little thought or activity, but a fair amount of time. I love cooking risotto and making ricotta cheese. Both of them take patience as you bring them to the right consistency or the right temperature. This week, grits fell into this category. I had always heard that good grits take a long time to make. Following a recipe I had saved, I pursued the low and slow method of grits making. The process had that same magic of risotto. There was lots of stirring. There was adding liquid a little at a time. There was reaching the point where the product was rich and creamy. For the grits, that was supplemented with some heavy cream, bacon and cheese.

4. Jonathan Franzen talking about birds – Science Friday on NPR is really a wonderful program. I usually don’t get to listen to it on the radio, but I have been trying to listen to the podcasts of the program more. This week I listened to an episode with Jonathan Franzen. Franzen is the author of a couple of favorite books of mine: The Corrections and Freedom. I think that he is a terrific writer. Franzen recently wrote an article for National Geographic about migrating birds being hunted for sport. Franzen has been an avid birder for years and his love for his hobby charmed me completely. The host, at one point in the interview, asked Franzen which bird is his favorite. His answer was so cute, I needed to go to the transcript to get it exactly as he spoke it. His favorite is the California Towhee. “It’s not an uncommon bird. It’s very plain, but it’s just the loveliest thing.”

California_Towhee_b13-45-039_l_15. George Saunders graduation speech – I have come a little late to this piece, and now I understand that it is being made into a book. Author, George Saunders addressed the graduates of Syracuse University. His message is simple – be kind. In the speech he relates that a life regret occurred when he was a boy he did nothing when a classmate was teased. He called it a “failure of kindness.”  Saunders proposes that one of the effects of aging is that we become kinder and it is a factor of our becoming less selfish as we get older.  What he tells the graduating class is that they might be able to speed the speed of kindness growth by being aware of it and “err in the direction of kindness.”