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Music Review: The Blind Boys of Alabama Down in New Orleans

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When the Blind Boys of Alabama decided to record with a new CD, they considered details. Only the best would do for the four time Grammy winners. While a number of places could have been chosen, Louisiana won. And so, The Blind Boys of Alabama Down in New Orleans began birth.

As a pick-me-up down in the home of crayfish and Connick Jr., this makes sense. After all, much can be said for the rich music history. Where else would funerals be highlighted by a parade?

Wisely, gospel tunes are backed by New Orleans natives. David Torkanowsky (piano) joins Roland Guerin on bass along with Shannon Powell (drums). Special guests are Allen Toussaint, the pianist/producer who made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the Hot 8 Brass Band, whose emphasis on horns is undeniable. This last choice was smart, since they are one of the city's 'most vital young acts'.

There is something for all on this CD. A spiritual overtone is evident. For some, both words and music hit listeners with a sledgehammer. A few are more subtle.

"Free at Last" focuses on the message of a cultural and political icon. Dr. Martin Luther King is being introduced to a new generation of listeners in one of the biggest forms of mass media. Music will endure no matter what happens in the world, whether or not events take place on a regular basis. Even someone who has never heard of The Blind Boys or Dr. King is drawn in with sassy opening notes. Using a clever move, the most memorable line from Dr. King's speech is penned as lyrics.

""Make a Better World" brings in The Hot 8 Brass Band for the first time. This song is a departure from what one might expect from typical gospel fare. Earl King, now deceased, wrote this as a message which people all around the world should learn. While I agree with the concept per se, the song itself did not resonate with or have as much of an impact as the previous selection.

"You Got To Move", to me, epitomizes New Orleans sound. While not discussing saints, this toe tapping song reminds those who understand man's common condition. Death does not discern between class, race, religion, sex, or anything else.

"Down by the Riverside" combines the talents of Allen Toussaint and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. They set off vocals nicely, but the words are interesting too. I have to wonder if they discuss anti-war policies on purpose in light of today's political era.

"How I Got Over" is one of the two songs associated with the late singer Mahalia Jackson. A little slower than the more peppy songs, it bears a listen. While none of us are guaranteed a life of ease, there is a way to get through one's troubles.

When I decided to write up The Blind Boys of Alabama, I knew little about their work. However, this CD isn't bad! Whether I enjoyed a particular song or not, the overall effect was a good one. Kudos have to be given out for performing in New Orleans. While there may or may not be a portion of the proceeds given to rebuilding efforts, the reminder of just how special the town is nice to see.

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