Review: The Blind Boys of Alabama – I’ll Find a Way

blindboysLet’s get this out of the way right off the bat. The Blind Boys of Alabama’s latest release, I’ll Find a Way, is a great album. Once again, the band, an American institution, manages to step up to the plate and knock on out of the park, continuing to show an artistic growth musically while staying true to their message and delivery.

There are two keys to that success this time out. The first key, of course, is the band themselves. At this point in their careers, the Blind Boys could have easily hit replay and simply stuck with what’s worked before, cutting another Spirit of the Century record and folks would have still applauded. Yet, they’re not content to rest on their laurels and are humble enough to take musical direction from a producer many years their junior.

And that’s the second key that makes this album work so well, the influence of producer Justin Vernon. Better known for his work with Bon Iver, Vernon brings his indie folk sensibility and a surprising understanding and appreciation of the world of gospel music to bear and helps to mold an album that stretches the Blind Boys to new territory while resolutely keeping their strengths right up front. It’s a fine line that Vernon toes and he does it with practiced ease.

One of Vernon’s influences was to offer some of his indie contemporaries the opportunity to perform with this celebrated group. The title track features Shara Worden of Detroit-based My Brightest Diamond, the Blind Boys providing background support and lending the track plenty of rich emotion while Phil Cook’s B3 organ fills carry the rest. “I Am Not Waiting Anymore” showcases Sam Amidon, his humble vocals buoyed the Blind Boys impeccable harmonies, while a horn-infused backdrop provides some great New Orleans’ vibes to the track.

A touch of reggae infuses “I’ve Been Searching,” Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs taking lead on what is perhaps the greatest artistic stretch on the record while Casey Dienel of White Hinterland takes lead on the cover of the Chi-Lites’ “There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table.)” It’s a rich and resonant tune, eclectic percussion notes and soulful saxophone lifting it up while Vernon himself steps to the plate, trading lyrics with Jimmy Carter on Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand.” It’s a stark and sparse track, letting the vocals really shine.

And while the Blind Boys are one of the few bands that can steal the show just by offering background vocals to a track, they truly shine when they move to the forefront as they do on tracks like “God Put a Rainbow in the Cloud,” jangly guitars and bright horns giving extra life to Carter’s lead vocal, still strong at the age of eighty-two, and the rousing rendition of “I Shall Not Be Moved,” Vernon’s resonator guitar providing a delta-blues tinge to the classic. Newcomer to the band, Paul Beasley, shows off his great falsetto and reportedly had the crew in tears by the end of this track due to its stellar delivery as “Take Your Burden to the Lord” draws from more New Orleans horn influences while the Blind Boys trade vocals effortlessly.

The record’s final two tracks are what truly capture the classic spirit of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Recorded just recently after the loss of Ben Moore’s wife of decades, Moore steps to the microphone and delivers a performance that speaks of something deeper and richer than even the music itself, old school gospel piano holding sway as Moore joyfully proclaims from his soul, “My God is Real.” That same joy permeates album closer, “Jubilee,” as the band is joined by Americana singer-songwriter, Patty Griffin. A rip-roaring barnburner, The Blind Boys of Alabama take full advantage of their opportunities, plucky banjo and hand-raising shouts of glory giving this track full life.

The Blind Boys of Alabama continue to impress with their scope of artistry and dedication to their message. And while the sound shifts here and there, pressing them into somewhat new territory, Carter and company are never better than when they sit back and rest on what they know, singing from their soul.

As Jimmy Carter explains, “It’s not just singing. We’re bringing the message to the people, and that message is the good news of God. We sing from the heart, and what comes from the heart reaches the heart. If you have any feeling in you, you will feel the Blind Boys.”

It couldn’t have been said better.

3 Responses to Review: The Blind Boys of Alabama – I’ll Find a Way

  1. jenn says:

    Their new EPK is wonderful. The Blind Boys of Alabama are so talented. http://smarturl.it/BBofAJVernon

    • Andrew Greenhalgh says:

      It’s a great record for sure, Jenn. Not quite “Spirit of the Century” but still a great listen. Thanks for stopping by and sharing that link too…

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