The Blind Boys of Alabama | I’ll Find a Way (Sony Masterworks)
For a golden age soul gospel vocal group whose career spans multiple generations, The Blind Boys of Alabama have benefited from some unusual benefactors over the past couple decades, including Peter Gabriel and his WOMAD organization and neo-hippie Ben Harper. Now, Justin Vernon has dibs on the elderly sanctified gentlemen. The leader of Eau Claire’s Grammy bait alt folk act, Bon Iver, has a way of bringing out all kinds of sweetness from his unlikely musical heroes.
Vernon surrounds the songs with production likely too raw for contemporary gospel radio, but rich enough to cast a fresh perspective on African-American sacred music’s place within the nation’s sonic tapestry. Vernon lends to his charges New Orleans march, ’60s-’70s R&B, alt country and what might be deemed rural industrial music (more rickety than abrasive). A handful of duets with a few indie and folk luminaries, including Vernon himself, bring the guys to rarefied heights far from passive participation. If Vernon can work this kind of wonder as a producer for an act with whom he has so little in common in so many ways, just think of how it might rub off on the next Bon Iver long player.