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Down in New Orleans

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Jan
Down in New Orleans
Sounds like … the Sensational Nightingales, the Highway Q.C.'s, the Dixie Hummingbirds, and other legends of the quartet tradition in gospelAt a glance … The Blind Boys ditch the hipster, neo-classicist approach of their last few albums and go completely old-school by way of New Orleans in this delightful collection of gospel standardsTrack Listing Free at Last Make a Better World How I Got Over You Got to Move Across the Bridge You Better Mind Down by the Riverside If I Could Help Somebody Uncloudy Day A Prayer I've Got a Home I'll Fly Away

You gotta hand it to The Blind Boys of Alabama. In contrast to the slicker sounds of contemporary gospel, the legendary gospel group continues to be a pioneer in collaborating with secular artists and creating glimpses of God by transforming unconventional pop songs into gospel.

The trend started with 1992's Deep River, but it wasn't until 2001's Spirit of the Century that the octogenarians underwent their most drastic makeover, mixing their time-worn vocals with the contemporary sounds of rock, R&B, and blues. The experiment was a match made in heaven, creating a resurgence in popularity for the quartet—not so much at the gospel level but with music hipsters that generally wouldn't listen to the genre.

Four albums since then, the Boys have decided to take a more traditionalist route with Down in New Orleans. Good timing. While the Boys continue to sing some of their favorite sacred songs and spiritually-minded secular covers, the whole neo-classicist approach was beginning to wear thin for them. Down in New Orleans marks a welcome change of pace for the veterans, not only because it fits their rugged, soulful vocals like a glove, but also because there's probably no better group in the realm of gospel to pay a joyous, true-to-form tribute to the beleaguered Crescent City.

You can't get more Dixieland than the tuba-laced "You Got to Move," and it's one of the most glorious things the Boys have ever recorded, as is the funky, horn-drenched "Across the Bridge." Meanwhile, gospel standards like "Free at Last," "Down by the Riverside," and "I'll Fly Away" sound exactly as they should—the Boys neither take away nor add to their historicity.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the singers are joined by some of the best proponents of New Orleans folklore, like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Hot 8 Brass Band, and piano great Allen Toussaint. Their collaborations elevate these songs to the pinnacle of Americana, and collectively render Down in New Orleans one of the most marvelous, timeless albums in the Blind Boys' career. This is traditional gospel at its best.

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