Review and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisEndurance, perseverance, and resilience are just a few adjectives to describe the withstanding career of the Blind Boys of Alabama. For the last 60 years, the nucleus of Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott have been blending Delta blues, southern soul and traditional gospel, impacting multiple generations and leaving an indelible mark on younger musicians throughout a span of genres. The group's most recent slew of public attention has stemmed from an opening slot on Peter Gabriel's 2002 Growing Up tour, followed by the back to back release of the spiritually slanted project Higher Ground and the holiday themed Go Tell It On the Mountain. Despite members' 70-something status, the trio's pace hasn't slowed down a single bit since its youth as members continue to tour at a feverish pace to promote their new material and vast catalogue.
The group's most recent stop through Chicago was at the multi-culturally themed HotHouse, a venue known for hosting a diverse list of artists, frequently serving as a platform for the Blind Boys' label mates on Peter Gabriel's internationally focused Real World Records. That performance began on a rousing note with members walking through the audience towards the stage backed by the funky soul beats of "Down By the Riverside." The bluesy "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and the holiday themed "Go Tell It Out the Mountain" followed, signaling early on these aging Boys' could mix up its song styles and vintage sounds. Additional radiance came with a "Hallelujah" filled cover of Ben Harper's "I Shall Not Walk Alone," during which Fountain and company became a team of possessed preachers reining down their healing powers upon the crowd. Such a spiritual direction further carried further into the Bible belt blasters "Jesus Gonna Be Here" and "Someone Watching Over Me," though the most interesting arrangement of the night was an extended version of "Amazing Grace." Instead of resting in the typical gospel arrangement, the group carefully tailored each verse and chorus around the haunting "House of the Rising Sun," a tradtional folk number made famous by The Animals in the early '60s.
Besides the original members' legendary presence, the newly added Joey Williams, Ricky McKinnie, Bobby Butler and Tracy Pierce revived the rhythm section and filled in the gaps of absent guest musicians from the Blind Boys' studio discs. (Sacred steel prodigy Robert Randolph and the Family Band back up Higher Ground, while John Medeski, George Clinton, Tom Waits, and Chrissie Hynde are amongst the collaborators on Go Tell It On the Mountain). Add that augmentation to the leaders' traditional harmonies, transcendent choruses, and inspirational tone, and the Blind Boys' once again afforded fans several reasons to rejoice.
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