33 West St.
Annapolis, MD, 21401
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
Watch & Listen
"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."
The son of a preacher man, Mississippi-raised Thorn spent much of his childhood in church, participating in multiple weekly services with his father as well as at neighboring African American congregations, where he became entranced with the music whose infectious spirit is captured on the new album.
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 his start; at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, 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 doesn't favor the sacred over the profane.
As an accomplished painter, former professional boxer, and seasoned skydiver, Thorn has never shied away from new challenges, but cutting a gospel record was just like going home.
Thorn's father Wayne was a bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy, a Pentecostal denomination, and Thorn was just three when he began singing and playing tambourine at services. Congregational participation was valued more than skilled soloists, and Thorn also found a showcase for his talents at Saturday night "singings."
But his most memorable musical experiences were at an African American branch of his father's church, the Okolona Sunrise Church of Prophecy. "There might be ten people playing the tambourine, but the rhythm was locked in, and they'd let me play bass. I loved the Appalachian gospel of my parents' church, but it was a treat to play with those musicians. They worshiped in a different way and the music was different, and I feel blessed to have been in that church setting."
The sermons in Church of God of Prophecy churches warned sinners of fire and brimstone and it wasn't uncommon for congregants for congregants to speak in tongues. But the lasting legacy for Thorn wasn't a strong sense of guilt as it was for many others who grew up in Pentecostal churches. "I think that they use guilt to intimidate you, but I don't buy into that anymore. There ain't no love in that."
Instead he continues to be inspired by the strong sense of communion that was fostered by musical fellowship. "One of things that I take a lot of pride in is that I love everybody, and what I learned in church paid dividends. When I'm up there entertaining it's also a glimpse of what my life has been and how gospel music has molded me into who I am."
The songs on Don't Let the Devil Ride, co-produced by Billy Maddox and Colin Linden, likewise fall into that same comfort zone.
"We're bringing Paul's fans under the tent at a revival," says Maddox, who likewise grew up listening to black gospel. "A lot of emotion goes on in those places, with people being saved while the band's playing behind them."
The exuberance of the music, says Thorn, evokes the warm-hearted nature of these social gatherings. "The first track, 'Come On Let's Go,' it's talking about going to church - that I can't wait to see you, and see you how you've you been doing," says Thorn.
Few of the songs here are well known. Maddox found most of them while digging through releases from small gospel labels in Mississippi and Alabama. "We just picked things that had a great pocket," he says. "One person described the feel as 'gospel lyrics set to stripper music' and that's pretty close. The songs are slinky and greasy and right in Paul's wheelhouse."
The most familiar track here is no doubt Thorn's relaxed tempo version of the O'Jays "Love Train," a song whose feel-good qualities readily adapt to a gospel setting. The Mighty Clouds of Joy, whose records Thorn listened to as a teen, made it a staple of their live performances.
The other songs stretch back much farther, but their themes - of redemption, taking stock of one's life, and resilience in the face of troubles - are universal, making them readily adaptable to the fresh takes here. Nashville's McCrary Sisters, for instance, lend a buoyant feel to "You Got to Move," a northeast Mississippi standard, best known through a solemn slide guitar take by Mississippi Fred McDowell.
The sisters' father was a founder of the Fairfield Four, a capella gospel singers whose live radio broadcasts on CBS in the '40s and '50s were extremely influential. Fellow guest artists the Blind Boys of Alabama, founded in 1944, were founders of the "hard gospel" quartet style that dominated the era from which many of the songs on this record where drawn. Also joining Thorn on vocals is Texas-born Bonnie Bishop, who attributes her soulful singing style to spending her formative years in Mississippi.
Both Maddox and Thorn were longtime friends with Hall and the Phillips family, and Maddox says that recording in Memphis and Muscle Shoals was a natural extension of the whole process and the only proper way to honor this particular body of work. "We were returning to the Motherland."
Rick Hall died in January of 2018, making the whole experience that much more poignant for Thorn and co-producer Maddox.
"The last time I saw Rick he came into the FAME studio to say hello," Maddox recalls. "We invited him to sit down and listen to the playback of a track we'd just finished. He closed his eyes and leaned over the console as the music played.
"About halfway through the tune he turned the monitors down, looked me right in the eye and said, 'What have you done?' I asked him what he meant. Then he got this big grin on his face and said, 'Well, that sounds just like me.' That moment validated everything about this record for me and Paul."
Dynamic singer/songwriter GINA SICILIA will release her eighth studio album, Heard the Lie, on August 31, 2018 via Blue Elan Records. Produced by Grammy-nominated Dave Darling, Siclia's remarkable eighth body of work in just a little over a decade, is a testament to her ever evolving love and practice of blues and country music.
"I've never really recorded albums that are straight blues because I've always felt the natural urge to write and record my many musical influences. But I have always tried to write blues-influenced songs with pop sensibilities and pop hooks—catchy songs that people can sing along to. That's something I tried to do even more when writing this album," say's Sicilia on her new release.
On previous albums SICILIA has always tried to evolve -- and that commitment to progress is especially evident on Heard The Lie. The gospel-tinged, up-tempo "Light Me Up" is a "really funky kind of dance song” she says, “I've never done anything like that before." While the handclap-peppered "Darling" comes from her love of girl groups and the languid throwback "How Many Times" is an R&B showstopper. She has even added her own creative-impulse to the smoldering cover of Bad Company's "Ready For Love" adding soulful touches, such as freewheeling organ.
The rollicking title track, released today, hews closely to the kind of modern alt-country music performed by fellow genre-busters Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lucinda Williams.
Heard The Lie is also nuanced with prominent Americana flourishes. "Bad Things" boasts twangy guitar licks, while the loping, mid-tempo "Sugar" harkens back to '50s and '60s country ballads. Although this Americana inspiration is partly geographic — SICILIA relocated from Philadelphia to Nashville and has since been enveloped within that musical community — it's also a reflection of her diverse influences. Over the last decade or so, SICILIA has opened for Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joan Osborne and Beth Hart, among others. SICILIA integrates down-to-the-roots inspirations seamlessly within the album's bluesy moments. Such as the strutting "Brighter Day," an upbeat duet with Grammy-nominated Janiva Magness, who also co-wrote the song, and the piano-tickled slow burn "Man In The Sky," a showcase for SICILIA 's formidable, smoky voice.
Since nabbing a Blues Music Award nomination for Best New Artist in 2008, SICILIA has enjoyed great chart and radio success in the genre. Tug Of War reached #3 on the Contemporary Blues Album chart and was the #1 roots album in Tennessee. "Abandoned" reached #2 on the Contemporary Blues Song chart, "He Called Me Baby" reached #1 on the Soul Blues Radio chart, “I Don’t Want To Be In Love” reached #3 on the Contemporary Blues Radio chart.
"I'm very influenced by being around musicians all the time, and being around so much live music," she says. "Great things can come from being authentic and forming real friendships and connections with other musicians anywhere, but particularly in Nashville."