It's always a treat to hear songwriters talk about their own idols and influences.

Kiss' Paul Stanley has an encyclopedic knowledge of the blues. Americana icon Steve Earle underscored his deep devotion to Townes Van Zandt by naming one of his sons Justin Townes Earle. Known as a songwriter's songwriter in the mold of John Hiatt and John Prine, Paul Thorn's most recent release pays homage to Buddy Miller, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Wild Bill Emerson and other songwriting icons.

"We had a big, old long list at first," said Thorn of the songs that were in contention for the release "What the Hell is Going On." "We just went into the studio and started playing songs we liked. We tried to find the ones that were in my wheelhouse. It was fun."

One of the best parts of the project, said the man who has been hailed as the "Mark Twain of Americana," was the chance to "take a break from myself." Ever since the Mississippi-bred Thorn's 1997 debut, he has been a study in songwriter-as-performer. Adding to the poignancy of his sound is his own world-weary voice, which underscores such sentiments as "I Don't Like Half the Folks I Love" and "Weeds in My Roses." Although Thorn and his A-list band of musicians literally give voice to the thoughts of every man, this latest album allows them to personalize the universal truths presented by other songwriters.

Paul Thorn
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Consider the album's title track, described as a blistered look at life in modern times by Elvin Bishop. The song underscores the disconnect among people even as modern technology seemingly joins us in myriad, yet superficial, ways. Adding to the poignancy of the tune is the way Thorn first experienced it -- when he visited Bishop and the two sat on the front porch of his house.

As content as Thorn is with the album, he notes that there were songs he couldn't include.

"I am a big John Hiatt fan and wanted to [record] 'Real Fine Love,' " he said. "I just couldn't do it. I went in there and tried, and it just sounded bad. When he sings it, it sounds so good. I just couldn't do it."