Blind Boys of Alabama, 'Spirit of the Century,' 'Higher Ground,' Omnivore Recordings [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt | Jun 03, 2016 04:16 PM EDT

The Blind Boys of Alabama had been at it for 57 years before Spirit Of The Century garnered them their first Grammy Award as 2001's "Best Traditional Soul Gospel Performance." Taking such popular fare as "Just Wanna See His Face" (Rolling Stones), "Way Down in the Hole" (the Tom Waits theme to "The Wire"), "Give a Man a Home" (Ben Harper) as well as classics like "Amazing Grace" and "Motherless Child," the 10-track album was a jewel, a long out-of-print jewel. Until now.

Omnivore Recordings has now restored this lost gem after 15 years, adding seven live tracks from The Bottom Line in New York City. The studio portion has the hot licks of such guests as David Lindley (a mainstay for Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon), blues man John Hammond, Jr., British multi-instrumentalist Danny Thompson and harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite augmenting their already-tight band.

They followed it up with Higher Ground which won another such Grammy. This time they had Ben Harper himself as well as the rollicking Robert Randolph & The Family Band providing the chords and rhythm on tunes by Curtis Mayfield ("People Get Ready"), Aretha Franklin ("Spirit in the Dark"), Prince ("The Cross"), Jimmy Cliff ("Many Rivers to Cross"), Stevie Wonder ("Higher Ground") seven staunch gospel numbers and a 2002 seven-song live set, originally broadcast over KCRW in Santa Monica, CA, and never released commercially.

These two CDs, both sounding exquisite, with those Blind Boys harmonies, having been rescued from the dustbin of time, is a motherlode of sweet heavenly righteousness. Plus, they're funky as hell.

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