'ACL' Live Shots
By Jerry Renshaw, Fri., Oct. 4, 2002
Blind Boys of AlabamaZilker Park, Saturday, Sept. 28, 1pm
Saturday felt more like late summer than early fall, the kind of day where you're smart to guzzle more water than beer. The Blind Boys didn't care, though, sweating through their ice-cream-colored suits in the midday sun. There's a point where secular music and gospel intersect. The Blind Boys are in that vicinity, but much of what they do actually defies categorization. They bring together hip-hop beats, Afro-pop arrangements, blues, and traditional gospel, all held down by a rock-solid rhythm section that never turns the groove into a rut. Pointing up the secular influence in their style, they pulled off a dark, smoky version of "Amazing Grace" set to the chord changes of "House of the Rising Sun," and a stunning take on "Motherless Child." You couldn't ask for better sidemen, either; Charlie Musselwhite punching in harp notes, David Lindley taking tasteful guitar and Dobro solos. On the last song, an extended take on "If I Had a Hammer," John Hammond stepped in and showed the intrinsic value of a cheap plank guitar when he strangled a great, choppy solo that was raw as steak tartar. The Blind Boys of Alabama have been at it forever, but unlike their white-belt-and-shoes counterparts on the late-night preacher feature, their music is infectious and moving enough to get the toes of the most bitter atheist tapping. If you ever wondered why hard-living, seminal rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Little Richard gravitated to gospel music, this be the reason.