Atom Bomb

The Blind Boys of Alabama

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Atom Bomb Review

by Steve Leggett

Since 1992's Deep River, the Blind Boys of Alabama have been exploring the spiritual possibilities of secular pop songs, and by updating their sound without sacrificing one ounce of their fiery, deep gospel soul vocal approach, they have completely redefined themselves as a vibrant contemporary act for the 21st century, while stretching the boundaries of what constitutes gospel in the process. The group's latest, Atom Bomb, adds loops and hip-hop sensibilities to the mix, and with the aid of guests like Billy Preston, los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, Charlie Musselwhite, and rapper Gift of Gab from Blackalicious, provides further evidence that the Blind Boys, even though they are all in their 70s (singer George Scott, one of the group's founders, died in March, 2005 at the age of 75, just as this album was being released), have no intention of becoming a gospel nostalgia act. With Clarence Fountain, George Scott and Jimmy Carter splitting the lead vocal turns, and with perfectly spare and funky rhythmic support from guitarists Joey Williams and Bobby Butler, bassist Tracie Pierce and drummer Ricke McKinnie, the Blind Boys take Blind Faith's "Presence of the Lord" the rest of the way to the altar, and give traditional gospel scraps like "Old Blind Barnabas" and "Moses" (two of the obvious highlights here) a ragged, funky exposition that puts real soul on their bones. The rap pieces, like a cover of the Fatboy Slim/Macy Gray tune "Demons," which features Gift of Gab, seem more interesting for what they attempt than what they accomplish, however, and the version here of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky," which was never really a secular tune in the first place, fails to find any new spiritual (or musical) dimensions in the song, but these are minor problems in what is a pretty good album. The title cut, a cover of the Cold War-era "(Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb," reveals a surprisingly current world view forty-some-years after it was initially recorded by the legendary Soul Stirrers, and is further proof that, although they may be well up in years, the Blind Boys of Alabama still know how to get to the soul of the matter.

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