Blind Boys of Alabama

Article excerpt

Blind Boys of Alabama. Duets. Saguaro Road 2496-D, 2009.

The Blind Boys of Alabama have been a gospel music institution for over sixty years, having been established in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. While three of the group's original four members have passed away, founding member and original lead vocalist Clarence Fountain does still participate on a limited basis, and those who have stepped in to fill vacant slots over the years have carried on the group's musical tradition admirably. Duets compiles eleven recordings the Blind Boys made between 1994 and 2009 in collaboration with notable singers from a variety of musical traditions, including blues guitarist Susan Tedeschi, reggae legend Toots Hibbert, Western swing ensemble Asleep at the Wheel, and even (oddly enough) 1960s avant-rock fixture Lou Reed. As one could only expect, the results are mixed in terms of quality as well as musical style, though the Blind Boys' rich, powerful ensemble singing easily redeems all but the most hopeless contributions--which is to say, all but the truly insipid "Secular Praise" by Eagles singer Timothy B. Schmit. Susan Tedeschi's performance on "Take My Hand" is utterly perfect in its crystal clarity of intent and restrained vocal power, and the previously unreleased "Perfect Peace," with Toots Hibbert, combines Nyabinghi drumming, traditional gospel harmonizing, and Jamaican-inflected vocalisms to create something that sounds like neither reggae nor gospel but is thrillingly original in tone and flavor. …

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