The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday October 27th

Blind Boys Make Believers Out of Cradle Audience




5 Stars

If the second coming had happened Sunday night, I would have been right there. When Jesus does come back, he's going to look for The Blind Boys of Alabama -- and from the way they sing, Jesus shouldn't have a hard time finding them.

The Blind Boys performed at the Cat's Cradle, transforming the place from a smoke-filled den of slinkers into a room of rollicking, hand-clapping folks just hollering for the Holy Spirit to descend.

As group leader Clarence Fountain told the crowd, "We didn't come to Carrboro looking for Jesus. ... We brought him with us!"

That seemed true enough, from the way the Blind Boys, dressed in black silk jackets and shiny orange dress shirts, grooved with a kind of take-me-home-sweet-Lord fervor. These men are getting old, but they still have spunk -- and it's no surprise, since 2001 was a good year for them and their well-received release "Spirit of the Century."

The Blind Boys of Alabama are literally just that -- a group of men who met at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Alabama in the 1930s. They've been making a joyful noise ever since, singing in a gospel style known, appropriately enough, as "jubilee."

The group has been recording since 1948, but it wasn't until 1988 that group members enjoyed mainstream success as stars of the Broadway musical "Gospel at Colonus." Since then, they have received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, performed at a number of prestigious blues festivals and received three Grammy nominations.

The Blind Boys are essentially the standard-bearer in popular music for the gospel world, as the genre's most successful crossover group.

And it's easy to see why. For starters, these are talented musicians. From deep bass on up, when they put their voices together, the sound is so full-bodied and rich you feel it viscerally. To top it off, these men know how to put on a show. They are charismatic, born performers.

Fountain, as mentioned, is full of quips for the crowd: "If you're not feelin' it, it's not our business" and "You've gotta keep the devil down in the hole." He also has a penchant for jumping up out of his seat, pulling his jacket back, and thrusting one hip out sex-icon fashion.

Vocalist Jimmy Carter got so excited singing about being a soldier of the Lord, that he started jumping up and down. Then, with the help of a sighted friend, he made his way down through the crowd, working up a call-and-response like a country preacher at a revival.

My only complaint was that their set was so short -- but really, it's remarkable that these men are still out touring. And musicians like these need to tour more often -- singing their guts out, feeding off the crowd's applause, eating up all the attention and jumping up and down with enthusiasm.

God bless them, it was a good show. Listen to them, and you'll be a Blind Boys convert too.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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