REVIEW: Blind Boys of Alabama album is gospel for the ages

Sep. 27, 2013 @ 01:07 PM

Blind Boys of Alabama’s reputation precedes them. They were founded in 1939 at the Alabama School for the Negro Blind. They have five Grammy Awards and four Gospel Music Awards. While their history goes back decades and decades, they present gospel sound that is timeless yet modern. They’ll bring it to Durham for two performances – Friday (Sept. 13) and Saturday at Hayti Heritage Center. The concert is presented by Duke Performances, so tickets are available through Duke University.

“I’ll Find A Way” (Sony Masterworks) is their new album, produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and with musical arranger Durham's Phil Cook of Megafaun. Cook will be featured with Blind Boys of Alabama at the Durham concerts. 

The Blind Boys of Alabama are Jimmy Carter, Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, Joey Williams, Paul Beasley, Ben Moore, Tracy Pierce and Clarence Fountain. Guests on the album include Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Sam Amidon, Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs), Casey Dienel (White Hinterland) and Patty Griffin.

When Blind Boys of Alabama sing Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand,” that is the song that makes you want these men to be the angels escorting you to heaven. There are few times when music can make you weep not because it reminds you of a sorrowful time in your own life, but because you feel the essence of humanity in the sounds of their voices. Blind Boys of Alabama do that when they sing. Vernon is featured on this song as well.
“God Put A Rainbow in the Cloud” is the song you hear from a choir in an AME or Missionary Baptist church that brings people up out of the pews just a few lines into the song. You can pick up on the lyrics and sing along soon, as the spirit moves you. And like a good sermon, the album “I’ll Find a Way” starts slow, builds up and brings you up. The group’s concerts this weekend are at Hayti, which is the former St. Joseph’s AME Church, appropriately enough. The pews and stained glass will add to the experience.
The traditional song “I Shall Not Be Moved” is on here, in case you want a familiar song sung by the Blind Boys of Alabama and a reason to clap and sing along, whether you’re at the local concerts or at home alone.
Hearing them sing Charlie Parr’s “Jubilee,” featuring Griffin, is indeed, a jubilee. In the recording, one of the men sings: “Alright now, you know what, it sounds pretty good. I’m beginning to feel alright.” Yes, yes it does sound pretty good, and we’re feeling alright.
“I’ll Find a Way” will be released on Oct. 1. Go get it.


WHO: Blind Boys of Alabama
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (Sept. 13) and 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St., Durham
TICKETS: $34 general admission; $15 age 30 and under; $10 Duke students