- Cullman, Alabama

March 30, 2011

Playback: Blind Boys of Alabama return with reassuring sound, and a few guests

Playback Album Review

By Stan Veitch
The Cullman Times

— There’s something basic and reassuring about old-time gospel music. That statement is especially true of songs by the Blind Boys of Alabama, winners of six Grammys, including the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Blind Boys have never put out a CD that had a lot of guest stars – until now. So what does the addition of such luminaries as Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Hank Williams Jr., Lee Ann Womack, and Vince Gill do to the music of  the Blind Boys?

Their newest CD, “Take the High Road,” has the voices of all of these greats plus up-and-coming country star Jamey Johnson. In a word, the CD is “astounding” or maybe “miraculous.” Yes, I’m aware that miraculous is a pretty strong word for music, but how many CDs can you listen to that give you chill bumps on several occasions?

This collection of 13 songs it that powerful. Though it features each of the guest stars on only one song each (leaving seven selections for the Blind Boys to master), you have time to get the flavor of each of the guests.

The first song on the CD is the title track and it features some of the smoothest harmonies ever heard, with the Blind Boys and the Oak Ridge Boys singing four-part harmony (with 10 voices).

With that many superb voices blending together, this song is the one with the most potential for commercial success.

But that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other gems to hear. In fact, there are so many great numbers that it would be a chore to pick out a personal favorite.

Perhaps my favorite (today, at least – I might have a different favorite tomorrow) is “The Family Bible.” Willie Nelson sings lead with the Blind Boys providing superb backup.

The most powerful song? That could very well be “Stand By Me,” one of the numbers with no guest star. As has been proven time and again, the voices of the group are quite strong enough to stand on their own, with or without music. And as on their other CDs, this one has some songs with music and some that are a capella.

And you can’t talk about this collection without mentioning “I Saw the Light,” which features Hank Jr. sounding more like his father than he ever has. By the way, Hank Sr. is the author of this song, so it is merely fitting that Junior got to sing on this version.

Gill lends his high lonesome voice to “Can You Give Me a Drink?” and Womack provides a stellar presentation of “I Was a Burden.”

Besides singing on “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” Johnson is a co-producer of the CD.

Though it was recorded in just a few days, in a way that makes it even better, as the producers didn’t want to edit out the “raw” feeling of the music. Sometimes being under-produced is a sign of a great producer – and this is a case of that.