In the seven decades since the Blind Boys of Alabama first began singing together, America has witnessed a World War, the civil rights movement, and the Summer of Love; the moon landing, Vietnam, and the fall of the Berlin Wall; JFK, MLK, and Malcolm X; the invention of the jukebox, the atomic bomb, and the internet. Through it all, the Blind Boys’ music has not only endured, but thrived, helping both to define the sound of the American south and to push it forward through the 20th century and well on into the 21st. Praised by NPR as “pioneers”, the group has transcended barriers of race and genre to become one of the most acclaimed and celebrated groups in modern music. From the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind, where the original members met as children, all the way to The White House – where they’ve performed for three different presidents – the band’s story is, in many ways, America’s story, and that story is at the heart of their emotional new album, ‘Almost Home’.
Recorded over four different sessions helmed by four different GRAMMY-winning producers in four different cities, ‘Almost Home’ recounts the band’s remarkable journey, primarily through original songs written for them by an outstanding collection of artists including Valerie June, the North Mississippi Allstars, Phil Cook, John Leventhal, Marc Cohn, and Ruthie Foster among others. The record is the band’s first in three years, following on the heels of 2014’s ‘Talkin’ Christmas!’ with Taj Mahal and their 2013 collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, ‘I’ll Find A Way’, and it sees them picking up right where they left off, blending the sacred and secular, the traditional and innovative, the past and present.
‘Almost Home’ grew out of the recognition that the band’s original lineup is down to just two remaining survivors: long-time group leader, Clarence Fountain, and current leader Jimmy Carter. Both men were born in Alabama during the Great Depression, and while Carter is still active and regularly touring with the group, Fountain’s health precludes him from traveling much these days, though he does appear on the album.
“These men were both raised as blind, African American males in the Deep South during the Jim Crow years, and they were sent to a school where the expectation for them was to one day make brooms or mops for a living”, says Blind Boys’ manager Charles Driebe. “But they’ve transcended all that. The arc of their lives and of the band reflects the arc of a lot of changes in American society, and we wanted to find a way to capture their experiences in songs.”
The above is taken from the group’s website and I would ask you to revisit and read on, it’s an exhilarating ride. And so to the music… traditional southern gospel influenced soul, including a total masterpiece in ‘Singing Brings Us Closer’, black, slow and full of emotion and passion, you just know these guys mean every word and with a wonderful big production job, I’ve got a handful of 45’s and long players and it seems like groups like this have been with me all my adult life, this is history in the making, the times we are living in are not producing groups like this anymore and we must lift up our heads and open our ears and embrace this music before it disappears for ever, I’m listening to the title track and it’s as poignant as ever, they’re on their way back home to Alabama, they’re “Almost Home”. Wonderful. Simply wonderful.