Blind Boys Of Alabama

Monday, 23 November 2009

The nature of fame, and the desire for it, has changed dramatically over the span of the last century. Once, professional artists in general, but musicians in particular were regarded as something special; they were viewed as having a unique talent that people were fascinated by – that they were able to coax something grand out of themselves that others felt but weren't necessarily able to articulate to their own satisfaction was viewed as a gift. In the twenty-first century though, it doesn't always work that way; now, we live in a time when fame and pop culture stardom seem to have become perfectly viable career paths and goals in life. As soon as it becomes a desired occupation, that means there is a timeline for success and, if it's not met, the endeavor is either changed to suit taste and “make it” or abandoned altogether.

In effect, the pursuit of pop music success has become far more soulless over time and, now far less special, those gifts and traits of craftsmanship are often regarded as commodities that are achieved not by luck, but by careful calculation and design.

There are exceptions to every rule though and, certainly, in speaking with lead singer Jimmy Carter it becomes apparent very quickly that The Blind Boys Of Alabama are a shining one. While it's unlikely that Carter would admit to being special in conversation now or at any other time in his life, as one listens to the man speak, it's obvious that he does regard himself as lucky. Even now as the Blind Boys celebrate their seventieth anniversary; he's aware that not everyone gets to travel around the world singing music they love like his band does, garnering tremendous praise for it, that luxury is only afforded to a select few and Carter knows it. Unlike many other musicians too, that music continues to be a source of inspiration to both audiences and to the bandmembers themselves to this day. “This most recent tour has been received fantastically well so far,” brims Carter while on a brief stop from the Blind Boys' tour in Spain. “We started out at the end of October, and we've been all over Europe so far. We've been to Slovakia, Slovenia and all manner of other places so far.

"We've got a few left before we come back to North America and do a few shows up in Canada, and then we'll be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas," continues the singer. "It's always incredible to me how well people treat us and come out to the shows; it's a very touching kind of love and we can feel it radiating at the stage from the audience on a nightly basis.”

While this tour is being done in order to support and promote The Blind Boys Of Alabama's new Duets album that features guest appearances by a who's who of talent including Lou Reed, Solomon Burke, Ben Harper and Randy Travis, those performers haven't been appearing alongside the band for these shows. Rather, the Blind Boys Of Alabama have re-worked that duets material in such a way that it requires no outside assistance to translate and fits right in seamlessly with the Blind Boys' time-honored repertoire of gospel music. “When it came time to arrange those Duets songs for a live atmosphere, we just got together on the parts and we figured out which voice suited each best,” explains Carter easily, as if outlining one of the most natural things in the world. “It was actually very easy to do; we've been doing this all our lives.

"We all know these songs very, very well and it simply becomes a matter of working it out so that no one realizes something might be missing in the performance because we don't treat it like anything's missing; the way we do it, nothing is missing. While we are going to do some songs from the Duets record, that's not all we've doing on this tour, we always do a larger mixture than just any one album. We are a traditional gospel singing group and we do enjoy performing that sort of material, however, we're going to do a bit of it all; we're going to play some of the traditional material, but we'll also be playing some of the songs from the Duets record as well as some of the other recordings that we've made. Because it is coming up on the holiday season too, I think we'll be playing a few Christmas songs in these sets as well so the people that come out will get a little bit of everything we have to offer. The sets we have been doing on this tour have showcased a wide variety of material and I think that, by the time we finish, everyone will be satisfied.

“The way that we did the sessions for the Duets album really made it easy to work out how it would work live too,” continues the singer. “We didn't have a lot of direct contact with those other singers, they went in and recorded their parts and then we came in later on and put our stuff on it. It worked out pretty well though, we had worked that way before, but it's always different every time of course because the way a singer will come to a song is always different. Some singers will immediately move toward a particular sort of delivery or style and then, when we come in to work out our parts, we have to work with that and support it in such a way that it all flows and works together. Everybody's working to a common end, it's just putting it all together that's the challenge and the interesting thing to do. It was inspirational for us too because it gave us some new ideas. Working with Randy Travis in particular was very exciting for us and it sort of planted a seed. I don't know exactly when we'll make another record just yet, but working with Randy Travis got me thinking that I'd like to make a country-gospel record; I don't know when we'll go and do that, but the idea sounds very exciting to me.”



Duets is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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