Bentley's Bandstand: Blind Boys of Alabama, Take The High Road

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BY BILL BENTLEY

Blind Boys of Alabama, Take The High Road, Saguaro Records

The Blind Boys of Alabama could no more go country than Mickey Mouse join a metal band. It’s just not what they do. But what’s extremely interesting is how close gospel is to the roots of country music, and how the two styles cross-pollinate at will going back to the Carter Family and other early originators. So when the Blind Boys found themselves in Nashville, recording with the Oak Ridge Boys, Jamey Johnson, Lee Ann Womack, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr., it felt more like their flock was expanding and not they were getting lassoed into some sort of marketing mayhem. The music is all of one piece and goes to the heart of what human voices have been trying to do since singing got started: find a way to get to God.

Where the Blind Boys are involved, it’s not that far of a leap for everything to move on up. Those voices blend into a heavenly whole and have since they met a million years ago at the Alabama Institute for Negro Blind in Talladega. Even though they couldn’t see, it was love at first sight vocally as they started working together throughout the South. The group’s reputation spread fast and while some members have come and gone, there is a such a solidness in their sound it almost doesn’t matter. The men gained national notoriety from peformances in “The Gospel at Colonus” play during the mid-’80s, and it wasn’t long before rock audiences started lining up for the Blind Boys’ roof-shaking shows.

Take The High Road was recorded in Music City with ready-steady studio players, and feels like a family reunion. The Oak Ridge Boys strut their stuff on the title track, and Jamey Johnson’s vocals on “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” show a deep appreciation of gospel and begs for a whole album by him of this music. Lee Ann Womack shines on “I Was a Burden,” a Danny Flowers original that could become a brand new classic. Then there’s Willie Nelson’s “Family Bible,” proving the go-to guy for guest shots is still a sure thing, while “Can You Give Me a Drink?” with Vince Gill gets the fire burning from note one. For special appearances that leaves only Hank Williams, Jr., doing his Daddy’s “I Saw the Light,” It is everything you’d expect it to be, as the Blind Boys’ voices kick Bocephus into high gear and never look back. Luke the Drifter would surely be proud.

With all that vocal power, the Blind Boys of Alabama on their own should not be overlooked. The seven songs by themselves are a wondrous walk on the spiritual side, whether it’s Muddy Waters’ “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You” or the traditional “The Last Mile of the Way.” There is a luminous light that surrounds all the singers, including founding member Clarence Fountain’s welcome return, letting us see what life might be like on the high road to eternity land. Praise the Lord and pass the peas.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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