Paul Thorn has frequently sung about his family. Fans know that his dad was a preacher and his uncle a pimp. Many other colorful members of his tribe have peopled his songs. This time he’s singing with his kin. His daughter Kitty Jones joins him on the beautiful fantasy “Sapphire Dream”, which they wrote together. His wife Heather duets with him on the love song “Breaking Up For Good Again”, which suggests it’s autobiographical. But Thorn’s recently deceased sister Deborah takes up most of the room on the album Never Too Late to Call. The title song is a tribute to Deborah, her ebullient spirit, and always being there when needed.
On this record, the Paul Thorn persona is still a tough guy like the real person who fought boxer Roberto Duran on national television, but the distaff influences in his life have mellowed him. So has age. Sure, he’s still a feisty fellow on a few tracks—especially the morality tale “You Mess Around & Get a Buzz”—but the prevailing themes on the record seem set by his sister’s example, his wife’s love, and his daughter’s wonder.
The opening track, “Two Tears of Joy”, sets the tone. Thorn’s grateful for his friends and family. “Now that I look back on a million memories / and when it comes to things that matter / there’s no one richer than me,” he earnestly proclaims. He cuts the sentimentality by singing it straight. Thorn has a leathery voice that expresses wisdom learned by experience. He sings from the back of his throat as if the words come from deep inside his body. One feels he’s looking the listener straight in the eyes while communicating.
Thorn energetically plays guitar, acoustic, and gut string. Sometimes he slashes the strings and plays it more as a percussion instrument, such as on “Sapalo”, than a melodic one. Like on the duet with his wife, he also fingerpicks to show the complex emotions behind a song’s lyrics. Thorn wrote or co-wrote all of the material. Ralph Friedrichsen joins him on bass, Michael Graham on piano, B3, Wurlitzer, and synths, Jeffrey Perkins on drums and percussion, and Chris Sherman on guitars. His old friend and compatriot Billy Maddux is in the mix, officially credited as “spoon bender/cat herder/driver”, but who plays a vital role in creating Thorn’s music in many ways.
The Tupelo, Mississippi singer-songwriter still imprints his music with Southern charm, whether his drawling out the words slowly for effect or making references to local culture such as comparing love to “apple pie moonshine”. These regional affectations allow him to see both exotic and familiar. There’s a tendency to stereotype Southerners as less intelligent and less sensitive than the rest of us. Of course, that’s not true. Thorn uses these tropes as a way to surprise the listener into paying attention. He can shout a hearty “Holy Hottie Toddy / Good Golly Molly” and trick people into remembering their mortality and the importance of loving everybody. Thorn charmingly delivers a serious message as a Southern gentleman because he gives a damn.