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Paul Thorn: Skydiver, Boxer, Rootsy Rocker

Paul Thorn has jumped out of an airplane 169 times just for fun, and he was a professional boxer who endured his fair share of pummeling, including a televised bout against middleweight champ Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran. As Thorn discovered, skydiving and boxing are excellent ways to prepare for a career in music.

The singer-songwriter spent the last decade being told by music-industry folks that he'd be the "next big thing." He's still not quite there, but for the first time in his career, Thorn has cracked the Billboard charts. His latest album, A Long Way from Tupelo, is available on his own Perpetual Obscurity Records.

Tupelo bears the gospel stamp of the music Thorn grew up around as the son of a Pentecostal preacher. His devout upbringing and the conflict it created in him reverberates throughout the album.

Some are uncomfortable with the intersection of sex and religion, but Thorn puts both on the table side by side as if to say, "Deal with it." There doesn't seem to be a lot of guilt in Thorn's mix of the sacred and the profane, but his self-awareness is evident in songs such as "Starvin' for Your Kisses," a lusty mandate set to a chorus of hallelujahs.

Part narrative, part parable, and part plainspoken desire, Thorn's songs are best when heralding the positive energy that keeps him going. You may think about visiting that senior citizen down the block from you who seems lonely, but Thorn put her in "What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up" in the hope that you'll do more than think.

Beyond simply entertaining his audience, Thorn just may inspire it to do something good. And there aren't a lot of artists who can make that claim.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Meredith Ochs