Paul Thorn - Ain't Love Strange Paul Thorn
Ain't Love Strange
(Ark 21)

The title would seem to say it all, but the funky title track kicks off this album with just one of the sharp kaleidescopes examining in detail exactly how strange love can be.The son of a Missisippi minister and a former prize fighter, Thorn was signed by Miles Copeland (The Police, The Go-Gos) and released his debut album on A&M Records just before the label folded.

His sophomore disc comes on Copeland’s Ark21 label and features one of the warmest mixes of roots rock, swamp blues and R&B that you’re likely to find this side of New Orleans. With a heavy, weathered voice somewhere between Richard Thompson and John Hiatt, Thorn tosses back mug after mug of lovelorn sorrows with a steady wry chaser of humor.

From the story of a faux Elvis picking up a leopard-skin thong-wearing Fabio lookalike hitchhiker in a pink Eldorado (they end up performing in a Bourbon Street drag show) to the amazed realization of a lover that he’s been taken to the cleaners ("I kept receipts for everything except your love"), Thorn proves again and again his knack with a story and a lyric.

His self-effacing humor can also be quietly moving, as in "Mood Ring," which tells of a clueless man using a dimestore mood ring to gauge the receptiveness of his lover:

"If it turns black, I should turn back
if it turns red she liked what I said
if it turns blue I should leave her alone
/if it turns green she wants me I know."

And in the Hooters-style harmony and country strummed of "Where Was I" you can just see him scratching his head as he notes that he remembers exactly where he was when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and when John Lennon died. But, he asks,

"where was I when you stopped loving me
when did I become history?
There’s not many things that escape my memory
/tell me where was I when you stopped loving me."

Thorn shows his George Harrison slide guitar soul as he cooks up a "Blue Stew," and even admits that "I Have A Good Day"(every now and then). But his Tom Petty vibe comes out in "Burn Down The Trailer Park" as he tells the barrelhouse piano stomp rock story of a man whose wife seems to be trading her wiles for favor ("My landlord came when I was out of town/our pipes got fixed and the rent went down"). His solution, he says, won’t be understood by Geraldo or Maury Povich, but he swears he’s gonna

"burn down the trailer park
shoot the pink flamingos out in the yard
I can’t live here since you broke my heart
I’m gonna burn down the trailer park."

No fancy tricks or gimmicks here; Thorn’s pen is smart and simple and his music classic and timeless. Ain’t Love Strange is a welcome new milestone on the road of Americana music.

Thorn will play Chicago’s Schuba’s next Thursday, October 19.


On the Road...

Bad Religion are bringing their old school socially conscious punk rock to the Riviera Theatre in Chicago on Saturday, Oct. 14. The band is supporting its latest Atlantic release, the infectiously head-bending The New America ( ).... Tom Tom Club - The Good The Bad And The FunkyThe very next night, Tom Tom Club brings their mix of funk, hip-hop, and dance loops to the Chicago House of Blues in support of their latest CD, The Good The Bad and the Funky ( )on the RykoPalm label. The CD is the first album in eight years from Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s Tom Tom Club. The two former Talking Heads founded the Club in 1981 and scored with the quirky hits "Wordy Rappinghood"and "Genius of Love," the latter of which was renovated in 1995 by Mariah Carey to form the basis of her hit "Fantasy." The new CD features a cover of Donna Summer’s "Love To Love You Baby" as well as collaborations with reggae toasters and a new Tom Tom Classic, "Who’s Feeling It," the album’s best party-groove, a remix of which turned up earlier this year on the American Psycho soundtrack.


Best Ofs...

Three new career retrospective collections hit the shelves this month:
Columbia offers Black Gold: The Best Of Soul Asylumwith 19 songs from the Minneapolis band’s Twin/Tone, A&M and Columbia releases between 1984-1998. The disc includes their radio hits "Runaway Train,""Somebody to Shove" and "Misery," as well as three previously unavailable tracks (two live versions and an outtake from their last 1998 Columbia album, Candy From A Stranger.)

Tom Tom Club - The Good Dio - The Very Beast OfWarner Archives/Rhino clocks in with The Very Beast of Dio, a 16-song collection covering the seven releases the band put out through Warner/Reprise between 1983-1994 (While the CD booklet shows the three albums Dio has released since then on other labels, they’re not represented musically on this collection). The platform of former Rainbow and Black Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio, the grandiose metal outfit, which included Def Leppard and Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell and drummer Vinny Appice, hit its peak on its first two discs, Holy Diver and The Last In Line, garnering heavy rock radio play with their title tracks and "Rainbow In The Dark." These songs, as well as other fist-pounding, mystical explorations of good vs. evil appear on Beast. The disc offers "We Rock,""Mystery,""Sacred Heart," "Hungry For Heaven," "Dream Evil,""Lock Up The Wolves" and Strange Highways," along with a live version of Rainbow’s "Man On The Silver Mountain." Dio is currently touring his most recent album, Magica, in Europe, but is due to begin a U.S. tour in November.

Epic/Legacy has released Indigo Girls: A Retrospective with 16 tracks covering their recording career from 1985-2000 (including two new songs). The CD includes their 1997 "Brown-Eyed Girl"-style hit "Shame On You," and banjo-flavored "Get Out The Map,"last year’s harder hitting "Go," and older favorites "Galileo,""Closer To Fine," and "Strangefire." The CD, packaged to look like a high school notebook, also includes liner notes by feminist writer Susan Faludi, an appropriately topical writer for a band that has quietly and eloquently tackled heavy topics from women’s and gay rights to gun control and other social causes. In fact, the CD hits the streets just as the band is on the road for one of those causes.

Indigo Girls will play the Chicago Theater on October 17 as part of the "Honor The Earth" tour, along with Jackson Browne and David Crosby. Also on the bill is Annie Humphrey, a singer of American Indian heritage who has a fine folk-pop album out, The Heron Smiled (3 stars), on the North Dakota-based Makoche label.