The Blind Boys of Alabama - Go Tell It On The Mountain
3 1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Dec. 16, 2003
Review by Tony BonyataAfter over sixty years of performing together as a gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama have finally delivered a gift long overdue for the Christmas season. With the recent release of Go Tell It On The Mountain, the band - led by blind founding members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott - has opened up their sackful of presents to share these traditional holiday folk songs, all bathed in the jubilant gospel music that has been the cornerstone of their long-standing career (a career that has seen their once small flock grow into a large congregation of faithful followers throughout the world).
It seems odd, though, that a group that has been singing the praises of Jesus for so many years, has just now finally released their first full-length Christmas-themed album. But with a growing interest in the band - from accolades from musical peers to recent awards from within the music industry (winning Grammy Awards the last two years for Best Gospel Album - Spirit of the Century and Higher Ground respectively, along with their induction into the Gospel Hall of Fame earlier this year), their timing for a collection of joyous songs praising the birth of Christ couldn't have come at a better time.
Produced by John Chelew, producer of their two previous efforts, the group is also joined by a bevy of talented guest artists that runs from Tom Waits to The Pretender's Chrissie Hynde to funkmaster George Clinton. While many of the musician's varying styles might seem to clash within the same disc, The Blind Boys of Alabama instead tie them all seamlessly together into one celebratory package.
From Robert Randolph's burning pedal steel guitar and Clinton's soulful funk vocals on the deep blues reworking of "Away In A Manger" to the lilting British standard "In The Bleak Midwinter," which features Hynde sharing vocal duties with Fountain and company over Richard Thompson's poignant guitar, to Me'Shell NdegeOcello's angelic voice and simple childlike piano-line over The Blind Boys' solid foundation of harmonies on "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," these all make for an interesting new twist on some age old standards.
Tapping into their own gospel roots, the band delivers rousing versions of "Go Tell It On The Mountain," liberally laced with Tom Waits' trademark panhandling growl, along with the hand-clapping, foot-shuffling soul of "Born in Bethlehem" led by Mavis Staples' radiant voice, as well as the more traditional folk number "The Last Month of the Year."
Not leaving a holiday stone unturned, The Blind Boys also successfully revisit those time-tested classics such as "Joy To The World" (a beautiful a cappella version featuring Aaron Neville's silky smooth pipes), "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas."
So this year, while you're stirring the drinks at your next Christmas party, why don't you slip this refreshing repackaging of these holiday chestnuts on for a change instead of that worn copy of Bing's "White Christmas." It just might stir a few souls too.
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