The Blind Boys of Alabama

Take the High Road

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Billed as the Blind Boys of Alabama’s country-gospel album, Take the High Road has a valuable pedigree from a country standpoint: it was recorded in Nashville with a cream-of-the-crop cast of musicians, and it features appearances from Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, and the Oak Ridge Boys. It also finds young country star Jamey Johnson in the production chair, a development that came after the Blind Boys performed with him at an Alabama Music Hall of Fame ceremony and they decided to record together. (All of which begs the question of when their rock album with Drive-By Truckers is due.) The songs are a baker’s dozen of country/gospel classics, and since the roots of country and gospel are so entwined, this is no fusion record. It’s an honest trip through the best that Southern gospel and country have to offer, full of the songs that have been sung for generations -- even the Blind Boys themselves have sung Hank Williams, Sr.’s “I Saw the Light” many times before. Of the songs with guest vocalists, Lee Ann Womack is the surprise winner, bringing just the right notes of contrition and redemption to “I Was a Burden.” Hank Williams, Jr. makes his father’s “I Saw the Light” shine as well, and the songs with the Blind Boys leading only a light accompaniment fare best. The rest of the album is a little more stiff than it should have been, fault going to the antiseptic arrangements, rigid musicianship, and Johnson’s wavering take on “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” which needs a lot more solemnity (or at least stability) to truly get its message across.

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