In the world of Gospel inoculated blues, The Blind Boys of Alabama are kings. That’s why, in December of 2003, it seemed appropriate for the seven man act to organize a show at New York’s Beacon Theatre, invite a few supporting artists, and film the event so it could later appear on PBS.
Originally, the show would only appear on television (in 2004) as part of a PBS pledge drive, but it is now available from Eagle Rock Entertainment as a well stocked DVD complete with Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS tracks. Go Tell It On The Mountain runs about 92 minutes and hosts 35 minutes of bonus features (which I will get into later). But first, the concert:
Concert videos are often plagued by a variety of recording mishaps; cameras showing up in shots, unnecessarily long footage of audience members “grooving” to the music, and piss poor sound recording run rampant in many productions. Go Tell It On The Mountain is a gem in comparison. The sound recording is comparable to The Blind Boys’ albums and quite impressive considering the number of musicians hosted on stage at one time. Audience displays, while prevalent throughout, were kept short and cameramen were virtually unnoticeable, which was very nice.
It opens with The Blind Boys walking onto stage together, each one grasping the one before so they don’t get separated. Once they are relegated to their specific spots, they start right into the music. “Run On For A Long Time,” from their 2001 release, Spirit Of The Century, proves to be a perfect show opener, showing off The Blind Boys’ soulful harmonics.
John Medeski is the first guest artist to arrive, lending his organ skills to “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” and then maintaining virtuosity throughout the rest of the show. Michael Franti joins in second on “Little Drummer Boy” with a capable, though understated, performance. Robert Randolph and Duke Robillard arrive later to put on display their amazing guitar skills while Chrissie Hynde and Mavis Staples are the most impressive guests of the evening, presenting vocal talents that can hang with, if not rival, the deep souls of The Blind Boys themselves.
The last thirty minutes hold the most intoxicating performances of the evening. As the group delves into songs like “Look Where he Brought Me From,” “Someone Watches Over Me”, “Soldier,” and the closer “Down By The Riverside,” the veteran Blind Boys become increasingly active. Jimmy Carter marches into the audience, showcasing his incredible vocal stamina and brushing shoulders with fans. Other members, most notably Clarence Fountain, rise out of their seats to shimmy.
It’s truly a wonder that, at their age, The Blind Boys of Alabama are capable of a performance like Go Tell It On The Mountain. Possibly it all lies in their love for God and their desire to spread his word. Whatever it is, it’s inspiring, and we could all do well from a little bit of their gusto.
Go Tell It On The Mountain holds a few features of note. There are behind the scenes interviews with footage of rehearsals for the show. Comments from The Blind Boys themselves and videos for: “Last Month Of The Year,” “Higher Ground,” and “There Will Be A Light,” a recent recording with Ben Harper. The comments give a little bit of insight into the group’s philosophy and are interesting upon an initial listen. The videos are fun to watch as well, though are unlikely to keep your interest for more than a few views.