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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Singer-songwriter Paul Thorn has spent the last decade being told by music executives that he would soon be the next big thing. Thorn released his latest CD on his own label, Perpetual Obscurity, and wouldn't you know it? For the first time in his career, he cracked the Billboard charts. Meredith Ochs has this review of "A Long Way from Tupelo."

MEREDITH OCHS: Paul Thorn has jumped out of an airplane 169 times just for fun. He was also professional boxer who endured a fair share of pummeling, including a televised bout against middleweight champ Roberto Hands of Stone Duran. As Thorn discovered, skydiving and boxing are both excellent ways to prepare for a career in music. His new CD contains an emphatic declaration of survival.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm Still Here")

Mr. PAUL THORN (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) I'm still here.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I'm still here.

Mr. THORN: (Singing) I made it through another day. I'm still here.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I'm still here.

Mr. THORN: (Singing) That's more than some can say. When I feel down, I know she'll shed a tear, say glory halleluiah, thank you Jesus, praise the Lord, I'm still here.

OCHS: This CD bares the gospel stamp of the music Paul Thorn grew up around as the son of a Pentecostal preacher. His devout upbringing and the conflict it created in him reverberates throughout this album.

(Soundbite of song, "Starvin' for Your Kisses")

Mr. THORN: (Singing) You were cleaning the dishes when I walked by. The back of your neck caught my eye. I whispered as I snuck up on you from behind. Give your soul to Jesus, 'cause your lips are mine. Starvin' for your kisses, starvin' for your kisses. I finally figured out why I feel like this. I'm a hungry man, and now I'm starvin' for your kisses.

OCHS: A lot of folks are uncomfortable with the intersection of sex and religion, but Paul 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 on songs like this one, a lusty mandate set to a chorus of hallelujahs.

(Soundbite of song, "Starvin' for Your Kisses")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Oh, yeah, hallelujah.

OCHS: Part narrative, part parable and part plain-spoken desire, Paul 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 a song in the hope that you'll do more than think.

(Soundbite of song "What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up?")

Mr. THORN: I know a woman lives down the road. Her husband passed away two years ago. She has lonely nights when teardrops fall. Pick up your telephone, give her a call. What have you done to lift somebody up? When have you helped someone who's got it rough? Well, we can change the way with a little love. What have you done to lift somebody up?

OCHS: Beyond simply entertaining you, Paul Thorn just may inspire you to do something good, and there aren't a lot of artists who can make that claim.

(Soundbite of song "What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up?")

BLOCK: Paul Thorn's latest album is called "A Long Way from Tupelo." Our reviewer is Meredith Ochs.

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