Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Blind Boys Of Alabama: “Atom Bomb” (2005/2016) CD Review

Omnivore continues its series of expanded re-issues of the work of The Blind Boys Of Alabama. In May of this year, we were treated to expanded editions of both 2001’s Spirit Of The Century and 2002’s Higher Ground. And now we get 2003’s Go Tell It On The Mountain and 2005’s Atom Bomb. Atom Bomb includes some traditional gospel music, as well as some interesting choices of covers, with songs written by Norman Greenbaum and Eric Clapton, mixing gospel with other musical realms, as they had done on previous releases. This special expanded edition contains seven bonus tracks, all previously unreleased, as well as new liner notes. The group, at the time of this recording, included original members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott, as well as Joey Williams, Ricky McKinnie, Bobby Butler and Tracy Pierce. David Hidalgo, from Los Lobos, joins them on many tracks, and there are some other guests as well.

This CD opens with its title track, “(Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb,” written by Lee V. McCullom and recorded by The Pilgrim Travelers. Oh yes, a song that compares Jesus to a destructive bomb. The first line is “You know now, everybody’s worried about that atom bomb.” With this election, there is a whole lot of other stuff to worry about too. They follow that with these lines: “No one seems worried about the day my lord shall come/You’d better set your house in order/For he may be coming soon/And then he’ll hit like an atom bomb when he comes, when he comes.” Ah, the vengeful, angry Jesus in full-attack mode. The song, with George Scott on lead vocals, also provides a bit of a history lesson.

Then on Norman Cook’s “Demons” the group mixes gospel and rap, with Timothy Parker (of the hip hop duo Blackalicious) joining them on vocals. This track also features Billy Preston on organ and piano, and David Hidalgo on guitar. They then get into more traditional gospel fare with a bluesy version of “Talk About Suffering,” which features some wonderful work by Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. “Talk about suffering here below/Let’s keep talking about Jesus.” Clarence Fountain provides the smooth and wonderful lead vocals. And I love the way all their voices blend on “Jesus.” John Chelew, who produced the album, adds another voice with the organ.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama deliver an excellent rendition of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky,” a song that was also a hit for Doctor And The Medics. Charlie Musselwhite joins The Blind Boys on harmonica, and David Hidalgo is on guitar. One of my favorite tracks is “New Born Soul,” with George Scott on lead vocals. This one has a very cool vibe, and of course some excellent vocals. David Hidalgo is again on guitar. “I’ve got a new way of preaching, a new way of teaching/Since the holy ghost took control/Souls are winning, a new beginning/Thank the lord I’ve got a new born soul.” That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Presence Of The Lord,” a song written by Eric Clapton and originally recorded by Blind Faith. On this track, The Blind Boys are again joined by Billy Preston on organ. These recordings were among the final recorded performances by Billy Preston, who died the following year.

The original album concludes with “Moses,” which is driven by the group’s vocals, accompanied only by some work by Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and John Chelew on organ. Timothy Parker also adds his voice to the mix.

Bonus Tracks

This expanded edition contains seven bonus tracks, and interestingly they are all instrumental versions of tracks from the original album. I say it’s interesting, because it might seem an odd choice to included instrumental renditions of the work of what is essentially a vocal group. But, as these tracks so clearly show, there is a lot more going on here than just this group’s stellar vocal work, and it’s great to have the work of the musicians featured. The instrumental tracks are “I Know I’ve Been Converted,” “New Born Soul,” “Old Blind Barnabas,” “Presence Of The Lord,” “Spirit In The Sky,” “Talk About Suffering” and “Faith And Grace.”

CD Track List
  1. (Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb
  2. Demons
  3. Talk About Suffering
  4. I Know I’ve Been Converted
  5. Old Blind Barnabas
  6. Spirit In The Sky
  7. Faith And Grace
  8. New Born Soul
  9. Presence Of The Lord
  10. Moses
  11. I Know I’ve Been Converted (instrumental)
  12. New Born Soul (instrumental)
  13. Old Blind Barnabas (instrumental)
  14. Presence Of The Lord (instrumental)
  15. Spirit In The Sky (instrumental)
  16. Talk About Suffering (instrumental)
  17. Faith And Grace (instrumental) 
This expanded re-issue of Atom Bomb is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

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