CD Mini-Review: Down in New Orleans (The Blind Boys of Alabama)

Song List: 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.

The Blind Boys of Alabama started in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Blind. Originally, all the members were blind; today, three of the vocalists and the drummer/percussionist are blind. One founding member passed away in 2005, and another in2006; a third, Jimmy Carter, still sings with the group.

The group was originally an all-Gospel group, but has done projects of non-religious songs in recent years. Down in New Orleans, their most recent project, is almost entirely composed of Gospel songs. A number of the songs—”I’ll Fly Away,” “Uncloudy Day,” “If I Could Help Somebody,” and “Down By the Riverside”—will be familiar to Southern Gospel fans. Though many of the other tracks on the project explore musical territory the average Southern Gospel fan would find unfamiliar, others, such as “How I Got Over” and “I’ve Got a Home,” have familiar convention-style harmonies.

This project won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Gospel Album a few months back. It provides an illuminating glimpse at the similarities and differences between black and white quartet (or, as the case may be, quintet) singing.


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