What the Hell Is Going On?
[Perpetual Obscurity/Thirty Tigers (2012)]
Tupelo-born songwriter Paul Thorn’s soul streak runs deep. On What the Hell Is Going On?, he takes songs from Lindsey Buckingham; Ray Wylie Hubbard (who guests on vocals); Allen Toussaint; Buddy & Julie Miller; Elvin Bishop (who also contributes guitar); Rick Danko of the Band; Paul Rodgers (of Free); Donnie Fritts and Billy Lawson; Wild Bill Emerson; Foy Vance; Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed; and Big Al Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin and wraps them up in a big southern country blues sound that would be at home in only some of the Pentecostal churches he attended in his youth.
Every number on the album is thoroughly ensconced in Thorn’s own personality without sacrificing the versatility of the source material. So, songs like the Lindsey Buckingham-penned opener, with its pop riffs and sweeping, heavily harmonized chorus, is recognizable, but then a slide guitar solo takes the song out of the California/Brit Pop world and drags it down south. Things get really dirty on Hubbard’s “Snake Farm” (which is much closer to the original than almost any other cover on the album); “Shed a Little Light” and “Take My Love With You” are performed as secular hymns. “Wrong Number” and “She’s Got Crush on Me” are just perfect soul. Elvin Bishop’s raucous guitar on the title track is a highlight.
The album is full of excellent lyrics, but the best story is “Bull Mountain Bridge.” It’s a modern bootlegging story mixed up with “Big Bad Leroy Brown,” about an Alabama ladies-man marijuana grower named Stone Fox Dan that gets mixed up with a local tough named Bull Mountain Hawk.
Take him on down below the bull mountain bridge
Tie his hands and throw him in the river
We might as well give him his farewell party tonight
Knock him in the head, he’s better off dead
Break his arms, throw him in the river
If anybody asks, just tell them he committed suicide
The biggest thrill of this album is how song-focused it is. What the Hell Is Going On? is a must for fans of blues, soul, and southern rock.