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 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.”
Thorn’s parents wouldn’t allow him listen to secular music at home (in his teens, he had to hide his only two LPs – Elton John and Huey Lewis – from his father), so he listened at friends’ houses to Kiss, Peter Frampton and the bawdy “chitlin’ circuit” comedy albums that he credits with inspiring the dark sense of humor that pervades his lyrics. But gospel music remains Thorn’s most abiding musical touchstone, the sounds that first stirred his soul.
He was just 14 when sometime gospel artist Elvis Presley died – “the world stood still in Tupelo,” he recalls – and while the King’s records weren’t a major influence, Thorn emphasizes the similarity of their early experiences.
“Elvis literally went to a lot of the same churches I did. It’s almost identical how we started. When they filmed him from the waist up, it wasn’t vulgar, it was the moves he learned in church, dancing in the spirit.”
At 18 Thorn was caught sneaking out his bedroom window to romance a young neighbor, and his father presented the ultimatum of publicly repenting or “disfellowship” – losing his church membership. He chose the latter, and immediately took out a loan to buy a trailer (where he lived ‘in sin’ with that girlfriend), landed a full-time job at a furniture factory, and joined the National Guard.
Tupelo presented few avenues for professional musicians, but Thorn soon met his longtime songwriting partner Billy Maddox, who had strong ties to the musical hub of Muscle Shoals. The duo began writing under contract for Rick Hall, owner of the legendary Fame Recording Studios, where Thorn cut demos of their songs.
As a performer, Thorn was playing solo gigs in Tupelo for $50 a night, and further supplemented his factory income with boxing. He learned to box from his paternal uncle Merle, a one-time pimp celebrated in “Pimps and Preachers,” Thorn’s autobiographical song about his two mentors: “One drug me through the darkness/One led me to the light/One showed me how to love/One taught me how to fight.”
Thorn would box fourteen professional fights (10-3-1) as a middleweight between 1985 and 1988, with his most prominent match against four-time World Champion Roberto Duran. He lasted a respectable six rounds before a doctor stopped the fight due to multiple cuts.
Although proud of his boxing career, Thorn says that he’s not surprised he’s achieved more success as a performer. “I went a long way in boxing, and got to fight one of the greatest, but the reason Duran beat me and everyone else was that he had the ability to relax under extreme pressure. When I was in the ring I was nervous and afraid, but when I’m on stage I’m comfortable. I’ve been singing in front of people all my life, and I know what I’ve got to do.”
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.”
He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) but has lived most of his life in Southern California and those geographic poles are quite likely responsible for his unhinged genius. He is a dual citizen – Canada/USA – but has often said that, ‘should a hostage situation arise, I become conveniently Canadian.’
Over the course of his life he’s met Elvis Presley (who hugged his sister for far too long), trick or treated at Liberace’s house (each finger had a diamond ring), was Bob Hope’s favourite altar boy (according to him), bravely traveled the world busking before he knew how to do it, famously co-wrote “You Were Meant For Me” with Jewel, pissed off David Cassidy and can count some of the world’s coolest people as fans.
He’s also an ex high school wrestler (98 pound class), an obsessed baseball fan, a yoga practitioner, a hopeless romantic, a smart-ass philosopher and a child-like adventurer/observer with an absurdist’s view of this crazy world and the various life-forms that inhabit it. He’s interested in it all – the big and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the terrestrial and the cosmic. He doesn’t just love life, he rides it bareback, naked, at a full gallop with one hand clenched deep in its mane and the other waving to anyone watching as he flies by. Time is ticking and he has work to do…
As a recording artist, he’s fronted the semi-legendary Rugburns and is responsible for a critically lauded body of work on his own: One Left Shoe, Chinese
Vacation, Answering Machine, The Barn (a children’s album), Tales From The Tavern (a performance DVD), Traveling, Unraveling, Dreamhouse, Noineen Noiny Noin and most recently the soundtrack for the acclaimed Sundance-screened documentary film, Running Wild – The Life of Dayton O. Hyde.
As good as his albums are (and they’re very, very good), Steve positively owns a crowd when he’s on stage, where the proverbial rubber hits the road. His shows are the stuff of legend – no two are alike – and can take an unsuspecting audience from laughter to tears and back again in the space of a single song. He is a master of improvisational songwriting and works without a set list to be free to react instantly to the mood of a room. It’s also worth mentioning that he is an astonishing guitar player on top of everything else. He is quite possibly the most talented, and engaging, solo performer on this planet. That’s what 250+ shows a year on three continents will do for you.
Whether he’s Canadian, or American, or simply from space there’s no denying there’s only one Steven Joseph Joshua Poltz and to know him is to love him.
Brian Scully (vocals/acoustic guitar), Jon Silva (lead guitar), James Zaner (drums), Sam Bouve (bass) and Ryan Jackson (keys/guitars) rip through shows with frenetic energy, perhaps best described as country music, tinged with Americana heartland vibes, and played with a bar-friendly edge-of-punk rowdiness. Everyone sings along. The patrons are as much a part of the show as the band itself. The result is a live band that manages to make every show — from small clubs to the largest of festivals — feel a little like a reunion of like-minded souls at their favorite local bar.
Their debut live album, After the Parade, cracked four Billboard Country and Heatseeker charts in 2018, and a newly recorded album is on the way. Always good for a draw, Dalton & The Sheriffs have been chosen to open for artists such as Sam Hunt, Lee Brice and Old Dominion, and the band has earned their own fervent headline following throughout New England. In addition to packing them in at prestigious venues like Paradise Rock Club and the House of Blues, Dalton and the Sheriffs quickly sold out four sets in one fall Nashville weekend, and 2019 will see this tremendous live band expand their fan base coast to coast.
Country Super Duo Thompson Square performing LIVE at Rooftop 210 Saturday, June 1st!
Come out and watch husband and wife country superstar duo perform their chart topping singles ‘Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not’ and ‘If I Didn’t Have You’ under the city lights of the Queen City.
General Admission $10
VIP TABLES starting at $250 – See Thompson Square live @ Rooftop 210 while getting the exclusive VIP experience! Tickets grant you entry into an exclusive seated area at the front of the stage, 1 premium bottle included, seats 4. Gratuity not included. Very limited tickets – prices WILL increase!
Songs From The Road Band is Mark Schimick (mandolin), Sam Wharton (guitar), James Schlender (fiddle) and Charles Humphrey III (bass). These veteran acoustic musicians have collectively received top accolades in the bluegrass, Americana, and jazz genres. Once primarily an album recording band, Songs From The Road Band has emerged as one of the heaviest touring bands in the country since March 2018. They are currently touring in support of their number one Americana, Bluegrass, and Classic Country chart-topping album Road To Nowhere. They are proud to call both Asheville, NC and Nashville, TN home.
Schimick’s signature high harmonies and energetic mandolin licks have pushed him to the top of the progressive and jamgrass scene alongside legends Larry Keel, Vassar Clements, and Tony Rice. He is one of the most exciting front men in the business. Wharton is an award-winning singer and guitar picker who honed his chops in Telluride, CO. Schlender, a two-time National fiddle award recipient, is one of the top five string fiddlers in the world, with a background in contest, classical, and jazz. Humphrey, a member of the NC Music Hall of Fame and a Grammy-winning songwriter and producer, received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s entertainer of the year award in 2011.
The Road Band delivers a one-of-a-kind show, featuring original songs from their four studio albums and crowd favorites from all musical genres. The band is known for their improvisational jams, tight three part harmonis and light show, providing an engaging, high-energy experience for audiences around the country.
- When: Saturday, June 1
- Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
- Location: River Jam Stage
- Cost: Free and open to the public
- Weather: Events are scheduled to proceed rain or shine. In the event of severe weather, the USNWC reserves the right to reschedule/cancel live music performances.
Steve Earle and his current bunch of Dukes, perhaps the best assembled Dukes ever, take on the hits of Guy Clark with a spirit of reverent glee and invention in their new tribute record, Guy. The band offers max energy on such varied tunes, including the bluegrass rave-up “Sis Draper” and the talking blues memoir of “Texas 1947.” Guy is a saga of friendship, its ups and downs, and what endures at the end of the day, all told through music.
Mandolin Orange’s music radiates a mysterious warmth —their songs feel like whispered secrets, one hand cupped to your ear. The North Carolina duo have built a steady and growing fanbase with this kind of intimacy, and on Tides of A Teardrop, due out February 1, it is more potent than ever. By all accounts, it is the duo’s fullest, richest, and most personal effort. You can hear the air between them—the taut space of shared understanding, as palpable as a magnetic field, that makes their music sound like two halves of an endlessly completing thought. Singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin and multiinstrumentalist Emily Frantz have honed this lamp glow intimacy for years.
For this album, Marlin and Frantz enlisted their touring band, who they also worked with on their last album Blindfaller. Having recorded all previous albums live in the studio, they approached the recording process in a different way this time. “We went and did what most people do, which we’ve never done before—we just holed up somewhere and worked the tunes out together,” Frantz says. There is a telepathy and warmth in the interplay on Tides of A Teardrop that brings a new dynamic to the foreground—that holy silence between notes, the air that charges the album with such profound intimacy. “This record is a little more cosmic, almost in a spiritual way—the space between the notes was there to suggest all those empty spaces the record touches on,” acknowledges Marlin. There are many powerful ways of acknowledging loss; sometimes the most powerful one is saying nothing at all.
Little Lesley & The Bloodshots
Little Lesley & the Bloodshots light up the stage with their soulful twang and captivating songs. Hailing from New York City and South Carolina’s upstate, they’ve been making waves and making friends around the world with their honest approach to American Roots music.
Jason Moss and The Hosses
Carolina Honky Tonk
Wes and The Railroaders
Meet Wes And The Railroaders! Charlotte, North Carolina’s, newest country-rock quartet, led by Wes Hamilton of the defunct alt-country band Pullman Strike.
“It’s the freest album we’ve done, the most independent album we’ve done, and was the most fun we’ve ever had making a record,” says Oliver Wood. “And most importantly, this is the most purely Wood Brothers’ album we’ve ever made.”
Indeed, The Wood Brothers’ sixth outing, ‘One Drop of Truth,’ dives headfirst into a deep wellspring of sounds, styles and influences. Whereas their previous outings have often followed a conceptual and sonic through-line, here the long-standing trio featuring brothers Oliver and Chris Wood along with Jano Rix treat each song as if it were its own short film. The plaintive, country-folk of the album’s opening track “River Takes The Town” gives way to the The Band-esque Americana soul of “Happiness Jones.” The wistful ballad “Strange As It Seems” floats on a cloud of stream of consciousness, standing in stark contrast to “Sky High”—a Saturday night barnburner built upon stinging slide guitar funk. “Seasick Emotions” is rife with turmoil, yet “Sparking Wine” is jaunty and carefree. The end result is undeniably The Wood Brothers’ most dynamic recording to date.
Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, singer-songwriter Caleb Caudle was raised on rock n’ roll and Southern hospitality. Influenced by bands like The Clash and Velvet Underground, Caudle was playing North Carolina’s punk rock circuit by the age of 15. Naturally, his music matured with his age and he became more lyrically driven, adopting a love for collecting vinyl. In 2012, he decided to quit his day job and focus solely on music — five years and four albums later, Caudle is gaining the traction he deserves. He was recently dubbed “the musical equivalent of high-proof bourbon – rich in flavor, with a subtle, satisfying bite,” by Rolling Stone editors for their list of “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know”. He’s played Nashville’s famed AmericanaFest multiple times and his song, “Borrowed Smiles” was featured on last season’s dramatic season finale of CMT’s Nashville. And as 2018 approaches, he’s not slowly down; he’s on the lineup for the 11th Annual Cayamo, the musical cruise that travels from New Orleans to Cozumel, Mexico, and Belize, next to icons like John Prine, Buddy Miller, Brandi Carlile, Patty Griffin, and Lee Ann Womack. And most importantly, he’s gearing up to release his eighth and most refined album yet, Crushed Coins.
- When: Friday, July 26
- Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
- Location: River Jam Stage
- Cost: Free and open to the public
- Weather: This event will proceed rain or shine
Over the years, Keb’ Mo’ has proven that he is a musical force that defies typical genre labels. Album after album, 14 in total, garnered him 4 GRAMMY awards and a producer/engineer/artist GRAMMY Certificate for his track on the 2001 Country Album of the Year, Hank Williams Tribute — Timeless. Over the past two decades, Keb’ has cultivated a reputation as a modern master of American roots music through the understated excellence of his live and studio performances.
In 2017, Keb’ Mo’ released TajMo, a collaborative album with the legendary Taj Mahal. The multigenerational duo went on to tour the US and Europe in support of their album; which has since earned a GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
‘Life Is Beautiful’ Keb’ Mo’ Meet & Greet Experience
- One (1) premium reserved seat in the first (5) rows
- Meet & greet / photo opportunity with Keb’ Mo’
- One (1) merchandise gift autographed by Keb’ Mo’
- Dedicated and early venue entry for merchandise shopping
With more than 40 years of American roots music under his belt, Texas native RODNEY CROWELL is a two-time Grammy Award winner with five Number One hits of his own and a legacy of songwriting excellence which has made him an icon among giants. With strong roots in country music, Crowell has written chart-topping hits for the likes of Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Keith Urban and more. But owing to the distinctly universal, literary quality of his writing, has also penned beloved songs for artists as diverse as Bob Seger, Etta James, the Grateful Dead, John Denver, Jimmy Buffett and countless others. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Crowell is also the author of the acclaimed memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, and teamed up with New York Times best-selling author Mary Karr for Kin: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell in 2012, with Karr saying of her collaborator, “Like Hank Williams or Townes Van Zandt or Miss Lucinda, he writes and croons with a poet’s economy and a well digger’s deep heart.” Crowell was honored with ASCAP’s prestigious Founder’s Award in 2017, and that same year released the album Close Ties, which spawned another Grammy nomination for “It Ain’t Over Yet” with Rosanne Cash and John Paul White in the category of Best Americana Song. In 2018, he opened his own record label, RC1, and released his Acoustic Classic project. His new album TEXAS will be released on August 15, 2019.