Higher Ground
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The Blind Boys of Alabama
Higher Ground

cd cover Now in their eighth decade, in a gospel vocal career that began in the 1930s at the Talladega School for the Blind, founding tenors Clarence Fountain and George Scott, joined by fellow shouter Jimmy Carter, constitute a veritable national treasure. Following up on Spirit of the Century, their 2001 sensation, Higher Ground takes its name from their full-blast coverage of the Stevie Wonder classic, whose wailing Hammond organ, wah-wah pyrotechnics and wailing pedal steel wall of sound augment rather than overwhelm the Boys' hair-raising vocal interpretation, confirming their perpetual readiness to mine popular material for unexpected spiritual inflections. Likewise, they work out on Prince's "The Cross" (in a spectral invocation of Springsteen's "Born in the USA"), suavely reinterpret Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross," and on Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and Aretha Franklin's "Spirit in the Dark," render a properly funkadelic read of George Clinton's "You and Your Folks/23rd Psalm," and nod to guest guitarist Ben Harper on his "I Shall Not Walk Alone," a slow ballad. The balance comprises mainly bluesy traditional gospel material ("Wade in the Water," "Freedom Road," and the closing "Precious Lord"). Higher Ground also highlights the signature gospel steel guitar of Robert Randolph and the Family Band. If this sophomore comeback doesn't quite attain the cruising altitude of Spirit of the Century, it testifies to these octogenarians' sanctified ability to rock the rafters and shake the firmament, a talent appreciated best of all with the privilege of seeing the Boys in live performance, the only way to fully apprehend the power of the gospel shout. - Michael Stone

CD available at cdRoots

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