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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Paul Thorn
Jen Chapin
Shank Hall, Milwaukee, WI

Ah, another night at Shank Hall taking in the music and the Guinness with Lovely Lady Leslie.

Let me first start off by saying that it is indeed ironic that I am about to write a lengthy posting about seeing a musician that hails from the deepest of Red States whom I actually admire. Two postings ago, I ripped Red Staters a new one about the hypocrisy of their moral values argument, but I believe that the best kind of music, when used properly and with great care, should bring people together.

Which brings us to last night's Paul Thorn show at Shank Hall. Thorn, from Tupelo, Mississippi, brings the colorful journey that is his life in story and song. I first caught him with a full band at last year's edition of Summerfest here in Milwaukee, and he impressed me immediately. His between song banter, although I was hearing quite a bit of it last night for the second time, adds an engaging dimension to his songs (all of which are available on Back Porch Records). This former tent revival singer, boxer and chair factory worker brings honesty-something in short supply in the current climate of recorded music- to his audience with his songs that touch mostly on gospel and blues. Thorn was alone with his acoustic guitar last night, and his songs lost nothing without the presence of a full band. It is rare these days that I can say that. I hope that Paul Thorn comes back to Summerfest this year. He goes so well with beer. If he comes to your town, check him out. You won't be disappointed.

Opening the evening was Jen Chapin, a singer/songwriter from Long Island who blends a jazz feel with quasi-poetic lyrics under a fairly strong voice. Chapin was helped out by Stefan Crump on upright bass (I hope I spelled his name correctly) and Jamie Fox on lead guitar (no, the other one). I was impressed by the musicianship of Crump and Fox, with Fox sounding quite a bit like fellow New Yorker Bill Frisell. Some of Chapin's lyrics were somewhat painful to listen to, with many lyrics crowding out any melody that she tried to get going. Her lyrical ideas more often than not went too far afield and distracted from some fine melodies underneath. With less pretention and more focus, Chapin could be a force to be reckoned with given the lineup she's sporting. What a shame.

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