LIVE: The Blind Boys of Alabama @ Cohoes Music Hall, 12/9/17

December 19th, 2017, 4:00 pm by Greg

Review by Don Wilcock

What’s most telling about the Blind Boys of Alabama’s recent show at the Cohoes Music Hall is that it wasn’t until nine songs and 50 minutes into their set that vocalist Ben Moore revealed to the audience that their vocal leader – and the only remaining original member of the group – Jimmy Carter was missing from the stage… and that the third principle vocalist Paul Beasley was on stage but had been on route since 5 in the morning.

To refresh your memory, we had quite a snowstorm that Saturday, and the brunt of that storm dropped several inches of snow from Mexico, Texas, New Orleans and Atlanta all the way up to Maine. Apparently, Carter’s plane was canceled, and Beasley must have gone through hell to get there. (OK, that’s probably a bad word to use here since they’re a gospel group.)

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Talk about “the show must go on!”

They used to be called the Five Blind Boys of Alabama with two of the original members of the group, the above-mentioned Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain, still recording with them 77 years after they formed. Fountain no longer tours with the group, and they have four instrumentalists, two of whom are also vocalists, drummer Ricky McKinnie and lead guitarist Joey Williams.

These guys have recently recorded with a diverse array of elite musicians from Tom Waits and Richard Thompson to Chrissie Hynde and Mavis Staples to Aaron Neville and George Clinton. Their latest album, Almost Home, was produced by several heavy hitters including Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, and Vance Powell (Chris Stapleton, Jack White). The 12 songs were culled from more than 50 submitted by Valerie June, the North Mississippi Allstars, Phil Cook, John Leventhal, Marc Cohn and Ruthie Foster, among others.

On most of the stops on their current tour – including their concert the following evening at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center – the Blind Boys would be joined by special guests the Preservation Hall Legacy Horns and/or Ruthie Foster, but neither of them were on hand for the Cohoes Music Hall show.

In other words, we were witnessing the musical equivalent of a four-engine jet flying on one prop. Did they pull it off? You bet they did. Did they sound like a polished gospel juggernaut? No, they sounded like consummate professionals who came up through the church there to testify to the power of God and offer some Christmas cheer with “Silent Night,” “Do You Hear What I Hear” and “White Christmas,” along with “Amazing Grace,” including an instrumental accompaniment that could just as easily have been the backing band for Eric Burdon singing “House of the Rising Sun.”

This wasn’t the musical equivalent to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. It was the old rugged cross, and the audience loved it, offering several standing ovations throughout the performance. And they didn’t shout for an encore after the 55-minute show, obviously understanding what these guys had been through just to get to the Cohoes spotlight.