The Blind Boys of Alabama

Duets

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The Blind Boys of Alabama, who originally met and formed back in 1939 at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Talladega, AL, have had an amazing seven-decade career, one that has seen them release their own brand of gospel on every possible medium the history of recording has to offer, from 78s and LPs to eight-track tapes, cassettes, and CDs, and the consistency of their sound and approach through all of this makes them a venerable national treasure. Always, in all of their configurations, a gospel group, the Blind Boys have still done a fair amount of secular material, often as vocal guests on other artists' projects, and this delightful 14-track compilation assembles some of those. It's a surprisingly varied set, ranging from rock and light reggae to country, Western swing, and blues, and finds the Blind Boys backing up Ben Harper (the wonderful "Take My Hand"), Solomon Burke (the striking "None of Us Are Free"), Timothy B. Schmit (the beautiful ballad "Secular Praise"), and on previously unreleased tracks with Toots Hibbert ("Perfect Peace"), John Hammond ("One Kind Favor"), and Lou Reed (the chilling, anguished "Jesus," one of the best recordings Reed has done in years). This isn't a duets album in the normal sense, since the Blind Boys are present on these sides mostly as background vocal support, but once they enter the song's arrangement, everything invariably gets lifted to a new plane, and while the results may not technically be gospel, one would be hard put to call it anything else.

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