This cover image released by Thirty Tigers shows "Don't Let The Devil Ride" by Paul Thorn. (Thirty Tigers via AP)

Review: Paul Thorn's gospel album is enlivened by experience

March 21, 2018 - 5:11 pm

Paul Thorn, "Don't Let the Devil Ride" (Thirty Tigers)

Paul Thorn's excellent gospel album, "Don't Let the Devil Ride," is invigorated by his youthful years making the rounds in Mississippi churches with his Pentecostal preacher father. The lyrics are pious, but the fervor is very human.

Thorn's colorful past includes achievements as a professional boxer — he lost a bout to Roberto Duran in 1988 — and if his right cross needed more work, his musical crossover has been more successful.

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.

Sessions were held at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, and Preservation Hall in New Orleans, with The Blind Boys of Alabama, The McCrary Sisters, the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns and Bonnie Bishop and there's not a wasted note or an overdone sentiment.

Thorn's voice is usually far from velvety but here he sounds even grittier and gruffer than ever, possibly reacting to the consequence of songs like "He's a Battle Axe," ''Soon I Will Be Done," ''The Half That Has Never Been Told" and "Something on My Mind."

Ending on a high note, a version of The O'Jays "Love Train" is slower than the original, as if the conductor was offering you a chance to jump on board. It's by far the best-known song here, but don't hold that against it. Its counsel easily applies to this record, too — "If you miss it, I feel sorry, sorry for you."

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