Paul Thorn grew up in the church singing soul music with his father’s congregation in the bluesy preaching tradition of the Mississippi delta, which was a hop, skip and a jump from where he grew up, in Tupelo. After a dozen roots rock albums, his new blues gospel release Don’t Let the Devil Ride (Perpetual Obscurity), co-produced by Colin Linden and Billy Maddox, represents Thorn’s coming home to roost in the nest of his gospel and soul upbringing.
Recorded in part at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Thorn wrote and worked for several years back in the day; partly at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis and partly at Preservation Hall in New Orleans; the recording spaces encircled the Mississippi delta where the songs were born. The album features traditional songs, which Billy Maddox hand picked by sifting through old gospel albums. The warm and heartfelt guest vocals by the McCrary Sisters, Bonnie Bishop, and the Blind Boys of Alabama render this album a booming, grooving masterpiece, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns blowing the roof off.
“Come On Let’s Go” captures the joy that places of worship and revivalist tents cultivate. The song “The Half That’s Never Been Told” traces its origins back to a nineteenth century hymn, repeating a narrative phrase whose concept is a common part of the gospel preaching convention. A slow, languid version of “Love Train” that takes its time getting there features the unmistakable McCrary Sisters. The McCrary Sisters are fully present in the uplifting way that only they can be on almost all of the songs, including “You Got To Move,” “Keep Holding On,” and “Soon I Will Be Done.” The Blind Boys of Alabama will pierce through to your soul on several numbers too, especially on “Come On Let’s Go, and on “Love Train” and “He’ll Make a Way”
Then Thorn pays homage to “You Got to Move,” again a traditional song with origins in the 1930’s. “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” references the traditional notion of meeting the savior “in the middle of the air.” “Soon Will Be Done” is a traditional spiritual relied upon to ease the pain of slavery and provide a welcoming idea of relief to mortality, and Thorn sings it to maximum emotional effect. “He’s a Battle Axe” is the musically funky heart of the album. Every song on the album is a lofty tribute to the way the blues sprang from the souls of the suffering longing for hope.
Given the passing of FAME studio founder Rick Hall in January, and Thorn and Maddox’ long term relationship with the studio, this album serves as a testament to that sacred space as well. Get your copy here, as soon as you can. Now.