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New sounds: Paul Thorn and Dr. John

"What the Hell is Goin' On?"

Paul Thorn

www.paulthorn.com

Perpetual Obscurity Records

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Singer/songwriter, rocker and raconteur Paul Thorn has emerged as a major player on the indie scene, thanks largely to live shows (both solo and with his stellar band) that are nothing less than a scream. His latest finds him putting his spin on a collection of some of his favorite covers.

It's a popular idea these days but one that can be self-indulgent or, at its worst, pointless. Thorn avoids those potholes by cherry-picking interesting tunes -- but more importantly, by picking songs that he can make his own. In this case, his band shoulders a lot of the responsibility, and completely shines.

Leading off with Lindsay Buckingham's "Don't Let Me Down Again" and following it up with a muscular version of Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Snake Farm," Thorn rummages through some unlikely songs like Aaron Neville's "Wrong Number," James Taylor's "Shed a Little Light" and Rick Danko's jaunty "Small Town Talk." But they all fit in with Thorn's clever and multi-faceted persona: Southern rocking (Big Al Anderson's "Jukin'"), romantic (Donnie Fritts' "She's Got a Crush on Me"), lascivious (Free's "Walk in the Shadow") and spiritual (Buddy Miller's "Shelter Me Lord").

Elsewhere, Delbert McClinton joins in on Wild Bill Emerson's "Bull Mountain Bridge" and you can barely tell the two apart. Now that's a compliment.

 

"Locked Down"

Dr. John

www.nitetripper.com

Nonesuch Records

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If, like me, you've not been taken with the good Doctor's recent spate of releases (too "pretty" and contemporary), and instead long for his spooky, swampy gris gris, stop reading right now and get a copy of "Locked Down." It's his best release in decades.

Harkening back to the groundbreaking "Babylon" and "The Sun, Moon & Herbs" (a pair of must-haves), this record's drive and energy is quite remarkable, especially considering that Dr. John is 72. Part of the credit clearly goes to The Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach who produced and co-wrote all 10 tracks, though John's "Nite Tripper" persona (his early alter ego) was lurking beneath the surface.

The title track begins with a driving groove that's part New Orleans and part Andre Williams and perfectly sets the stage for the Doctor's vocals, which could have been outtakes from "Babylon's" "Black Widow Spider." "Revolution" features a tight rhythm bed, honkin' baritone saxes and a diatribe that winds its way from social and religious to political. "Ice Age" is based around a guitar vamp that could have been lifted from an early Captain Beefheart LP.

Other standouts are the soul-funk of "Kingdom of Izzness" and downright under-worldliness of "Eleggua," which ranks as one of the deadliest tracks he's ever laid down. Meanwhile, "My Children, My Angels" delves into the spacey territory that made "The Sun, Moon & Herbs" a masterpiece, and "God's Sure Good" closes with some joyous voodoo gospel.

The keys are almost all joyously minor, which gives a wonderfully dark, haunting hue to each track. Ahh . . . the Nite Tripper is back!


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