Music Review: The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Atom Bomb

Published on November 18th, 2016 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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The Blind Boys Of Alabama won a Dove Award for 2005’s  Atom Bomb, but the album isn’t your typical gospel music. The songs are intended to capture the “deep and haunting feel of the Old Testament,” as executive producer Chris Goldsmith says, and they do, but as always, the Blind Boys put their own distinct spin on songs. On Atom Bomb, they are joined by a fantastic band who turn the traditional (and sometimes untraditional) tracks into swampy, bluesy explorations and canvases in which to showcase the Blind Boys luxuriant harmonies, as well as rapper The Gift Of Gab (from Blackalcious), who adds a whole other dimension.

Atom Bomb does a fine job of capturing the heaviness of the Old Testament and does so through an eclectic group of song choices. Most interesting, perhaps, is a cover of Fat Boy Slim/Macy Gray’s “Demons.” It’s a collaborative, collage-like track, with organ from Billy Preston and rapping from The Gift Of Gab. Coupled with the Blind Boys stunning harmonies, it’s inventive and forward-thinking. “Moses,” too, is a collaboration with The Gift Of Gab, and it’s incredible. Wailing harmonica from Charlie Musselwhite punctuates the atmospheric, moving track. It’s painterly and subdued, richly evocative and haunting. There’s much going on, with layers of vocals and subtle organ, and is wildly relistenable.

“Moses” is a traditional tune, arranged by the Blind Boys of Alabama, as are many of the tracks on Atom Bomb. It is evident to the listener how important these songs are the the Blind Boys in the reverent way they are sung. The arrangements, though are gritty and bluesy, like the standard, “Talk About Suffering.” It’s swampy and heavy, but the harmonies are heavenly. There’s never a moment where a voice overpowers another in the Blind Boys. When they are singing together in harmony, they work like a finely tuned machine.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama take turns leading the group. George Scott fronts the quietly driving “Old Blind Barnabas.” Scott is referred to in the liner notes as “their Old Testament” singer because of his gravitas and the fact that he “sounded like the voice of God.” On the propulsive title track, “(Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb” his voice is pure velvet, simply accompanied by bass (Tracy Pierce) and drums (Michael Jerome). The slow burning “Faith And Grace” is led by Jimmy Carter, who has a fantastic earthiness to his voice. It’s spare with elegantly smooth vocals from the other Blind Boys.

Atom Bomb is called an “undiscovered treasure in The Blind Boys’ catalog.” The delightful folks at Omnivore have reissued this wonderful album with bonus tracks, as usual, but these bonus tracks are a departure from the expected. Added are instrumental versions of seven of the tracks, and while they aren’t showcasing the outstanding vocals of the Blind Boys, they are interesting (“I Know I’ve Been Converted” feels like a sleepy “Green Onions”).  But we come for the voices, and the Blind Boys Of Alabama never disappoint.

Atom Bomb was released by Omnivore Recordings on November 4.

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