The Mighty Clouds of Joy

Friday, Sept. 14, Zilker park

ACL Music Fest Live Shots
Photo by John Anderson

The Mighty Clouds of Joy

As the sun set behind the WaMu tent Friday evening, it was easy to recall Mavis Staples' transcendent performance there on the first night of ACL 2003. Despite nearly identical climatic conditions, the Mighty Clouds of Joy couldn't quite conjure the collective rush of skin-tingling exhilaration that characterizes a standout gospel performance. Together since 1959, the Clouds have more than four decades' experience bringing traditional gospel-quartet harmonies to bear on contemporary R&B. They even had a No. 2 Billboard dance hit with 1975's "Mighty High." Their set negotiated the sacred/secular intersection with varying degrees of success. When founding member Joe Ligon took his solos, the aural distinction between old-time religion and Stax/Volt was negligible, the quartet's harmonies best displayed in a slow-groove reworking of the O'Jays' "Love Train." Vocalist Mike Cook then wooed the assemblage with glass-shattering falsetto acrobatics that wouldn't have been out of place on American Idol. The line between currying and pandering is a thin one, and the group finally crossed it by closing with "Shout." As backward baseball caps bobbed in unison, the rote nature of this exercise became all too clear.

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