The Blind Boys of Alabama
Saguaro Road

The Blind Boys of Alabama need no help in shaking a listener’s soul to its foundation. Still, every so often they’ve been asked to or have invited others to participate in one-off duet events. Finally, some of those—tracing a 15-year-history—are anthologized on Duets. Acting mostly in a supporting role, the Blind Boys add ballast and/or margin notes, you might say, to a roster as varied as roots-oriented children’s artist Dan Zanes, blues-tinged rocker Bonnie Raitt, traditional country crooner Randy Travis (sounding more than ever like his idol Lefty Frizzell in his husky-voiced romp through Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head”) and western swing giants Asleep At the Wheel (in a delightfully spry tear through “The Devil Ain’t Lazy,” on which the Boys’ voices take a frisky second lead to a genial tenor lead by Wheel leader Ray Benson, who’s sounding as much like Roy Rogers as Randy Travis is Lefty Frizzell). It’s nice revisiting the many wonderful performances collected here—Susan Tedeschi swaggering through Dorsey Burnette’s “Magnificent Sanctuary Band,” from her Hope and Desire album, with her soaring exultations supported by the Alabamians’ celebratory response, is a positively elevating experience; similarly, the Blind Boys adding gospel flavor to a fierce talking blues by Charlie Musselwhite (“I Had Trouble”) suggests the spiritual redemption Charlie’s having fits trying to achieve, a quest he underscores with his own shimmering, moaning harp solo.

Apart from three new cuts recorded expressly for this album, a trio of previously unreleased tracks stands out: “Perfect Peace,” a gospel reggae plea with a gritty Toots Hibbert and the Blind Boys in perfect harmony calling for a new spirituality and flowering of love to heal the world; “One Kind Favor,” a dark, brooding, Delta blues with John Hammond, whose mournful National steel cries out plaintively above the Blind Boys’ foreboding hum; and “Jesus,” a spare, astringent cry from the depths of despair courtesy Lou Reed’s (yes) pen, dour vocal and trembling conscience. Doing the honors of wrecking the house, gospel style, are Solomon Burke, preaching with subdued fervor, laments the lost sheep among us while counseling we be pro-active in bringing them back to the fold in the gritty Mann-Weil-Brenda Russell tract, “None Of Us Are Free,” and a live Marva Wright (on a deep, stomping “How I Got Over”) while the Blind Boys shout encouragement with introspective and spirited interjections, respectively. Regardless of the style they’re working in, the Blind Boys of Alabama do their level best to make sure the message gets through unhindered and unfiltered. If they’re looking for an amen, here’s one to start with. –David McGee

Buy it at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024