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“This is the culmination of my whole life in music, coming back to my gospel roots,” says Paul Thorn about his newest album, Don’t Let the Devil Ride. “My message on this record is ‘let’s get together’—I want to help lighten your load and make you smile.”
Don’t Let the Devil Ride collects soulful songs originally cut by black Southern gospel groups and features guests: the Blind Boys of Alabama, the McCrary Sisters, the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns, and Bonnie Bishop.
The album was recorded at three temples of sound: the Sam C. Phillips Recording Studio, whose namesake gave another son of Tupelo, Mississippi, his start; at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Thorn worked as a songwriter for legendary producer Rick Hall early in his career; and at Preservation Hall, where horn players from the celebrated jazz venue lent songs a New Orleans vibe.
The new release marks Thorn’s first time recording gospel music, after a dozen albums in roots-rock mode, though his upbringing has previously been reflected in his creation of a body of strikingly original songs. In his own songwriting, Thorn often addresses the foibles of human relationships, although he does not favor the sacred over the profane.
His songwriting often combines wry or humorous observations with blues, country and rock. With onstage banter that bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Mitch Hedberg, Thorn’s live shows are must-see and his albums, over a dozen since 1997, are full of gems.
The songs here are mostly from deep in the hymn books but Thorn’s interpretations with his longtime band and top-notch guests add up to a fine collection of Southern sounds.