Review: 'The Best of Paul Thorn' gives new listeners a sampler, fans a live album
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It is fitting that Tupelo-based Americana star Paul Thorn chose not to call his first compilation album “Paul Thorn's Greatest Hits.” This is, after all, the artist who once named an EP Still No Hits, called his record label Perpetual Obscurity, and often jokes onstage that, while he has written hit songs for artists like Sawyer Brown and Toby Keith, he has never had one for himself. Thorn is one of Americana's best kept secrets, a virtual unknown to casual listeners who may only be familiar with artists like Jason Isbell or The Avett Brothers, but a mainstay among Americana's hardcore. Now, with the aptly named The Best of Paul Thorn, those avid fans have a perfect gateway for their friends, as well as some new material to ensure they'll be buying too.

The problem with having no identifiable hits and a small but dedicated fanbase is that producing a one-album compilation that every fan will agree is the “best” is a near impossible task. In Paul Thorn's case, the album is a fairly good representative sample from his nearly two decade career. There are the early hits like “Burn Down the Trailer Park.” the perennial concert favorites like the call and response boogie-gospel number “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand,” and the newer tracks like “Snake Farm” and “Old Stray Dogs and Jesus." There are also the songs Thorn is likely best known for among casual fans who've heard his frequent appearances on the Bob & Tom radio show, such as “I Don't Like Half the Folks I Love.”

The other problem with having a small and dedicated fanbase is that they already have all of the albums, eliminating the need for a hits compilation. Thorn has an answer to this as well. The first enticement for existing fans is the inclusion of a new song, an electric blues burner called “Rose City.” While actually written by Thorn years ago while working as a staff writer at FAME Studios, this is the first time he has recorded it himself.

The second, and most tantalizing, enticement for existing fans is a nine-song acoustic live album that is included as a bonus. Featuring no crossover with the Best Of album, the live album includes live favorites like “Hammer & Nail,” “That's Life,” “Turnip Greens” and “She Won't Cheat On Us.” While it was most likely included for existing fans, it is actually the more representative of the two albums for new listeners as well. Thorn's often hilarious stream-of-consciousness stage banter is half the reason his shows are so popular and the live album captures that live energy well.

There's a lot to recommend in The Best of Paul Thorn both for existing fans and for those wondering what all of the excitement is about. It will release Dec. 9 on Perpetual Obscurity Records.