Blind Boys of Albama
Jazz Cafe Tues 18th July 2006
Review David Atkinson
never noticed how many stairs there were at the Jazz Cafe before
I saw the Blind Boys of Alabama led down and file on stage. Clarence
Fountain's venerable gospel group took them all in their stride
though, as they have with pretty much everything else in their years
on the road.
Sporting orange suits and the customary shades, Fountain and Bishop
Billy Powers were seated centre stage. Unfortunately they were one
Blind Boy down; we were told in an engaging preamble to show-opener
Good Enough For Me that vocalist Jimmy Carter was at home 'surviving'
a bout of ill health. That said, Ricky McKinnie's steady drumming,
aided by an acutely aware and able band, steered the enthusiastic
crowd through the righteous Atom Bomb and Spirit In The Sky, and
the delightful Nat 'King' Cole song Looking Back.
I was familiar with the Blind Boy's rich, trademark harmonies from
record but hearing it live was something else. It's such a stirring,
joyful noise - it made the hairs on my neck stand up and rattled
the drinks on the bar. It's a sound that's won them numerous Grammy's
and Grammy nominations late in their career after years on the gospel
circuit. Now they enjoy crossover success but without really watering
down their religiousness. And why should they? They seem happy to
sing for whoever will listen, secular or spiritual - as Clarence
Fountain said, "We didn't come all the way to London lookin'
for Jesus... because we brought him with us."
Their skilful vocal arrangements were most apparent on Amazing Grace,
which borrowed the chord progression normally associated with House
of The Rising Sun. Lead guitarist Joey Williams, rhythm guitarist
Caleb Butler and superb bassist Tracy Pierce extended the range
and complexity of the vocals on this tune, which is apparently Clarence
Bishop Billy Powers shone on Lord Remember Me and Let It Down (Holy
Ghost), it really helped charge the atmosphere and served as a fiery
counterpoint to Fountain. Actually both men worked the crowd hard
from the start, standing up when they could and obviously enjoying
themselves. The atmosphere was charged further by Power's 'can't
sit down' theatrics and long guided walkabout - round the floor
and up into the balcony - singing all the way. Sanctified and irresistible.
The crowd were worked over and primed for Through The Storm, which
was my favourite song of the night. I have a version by Mahalia
Jackson I just adore but hearing these guys do it will stay with
me a long time. It was fine stagecraft too; the right song delivered
at the right time - just when the audience needed it. The set closed
on the stomping I'm A Soldier (In The Army Of The Lord) but the
wild applause secured one more song, The Last Time, which was beautiful
Okay, I didn't see people fainting or being converted but it was
a real taste of what these songs are about. Blues may be Devil's
music but, clearly, you can't knock The Lord. I'm not a religious
man but maybe these guys are on to something...!
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