The Blind Boys of Alabama

'ACL' sides

Phases and Stages

The Blind Boys of Alabama

Higher Ground (Real World) There's a saying in holy music: that which separates secular and gospel music is whether the Lord's name is used in vain or in praise. An overstatement perhaps, but it underscores gospel's relation to the other limbs on the African-American sound tree: blues, soul, rock & roll, R&B, and hip-hop. No one knows this better than the Blind Boys of Alabama. Since forming at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939, BBA have not only come to define sheer endurance, their ability to inject the Spirit's youthful energy into songs they interpret is nearly unmatched. There's more of the same on their follow-up to last year's Grammy-winning Spirit of the Century, their sophomore release on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, and their 21st album overall. Cuts range from the traditional "Wade in the Water" and "Freedom Road" to Prince's "The Cross," Stevie Wonder's title track, Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross," Aretha Franklin's "Spirit in the Dark," Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," and perhaps the most fascinating, segueing from Funkadelic's "You and Your Folks" into the 23rd Psalm. Now that's intrepid. Like its predecessor, Higher Ground also features a host of guest musicians. Deluxe spiritual pedal steel player Robert Randolph and his Family Band offer up hallowed and haunting melody lines, as does bluesy soul-rock sparkplug Ben Harper on slide guitar and vox. Once again, the Blind Boys of Alabama prove it: Age don't mean a thing if you got that spiritual swing. (Saturday, Sept. 28, 1-2pm, Feature stage.)

*** .5

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