Album: The Blind Boys of Alabama

Go Tell It on the Mountain, Realworld
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The Independent Culture

On paper it seems a half-decent idea, pairing the venerable gospel group with a variety of guest vocalists on a selection of seasonal classics; but the results are a disappointment, lacking the tight focus and passionate drive of The Blind Boys' best work. Tom Waits' recounting of the nativity against The Blind Boys' harmonies on the title track sounds like nothing so much as a wino stumbling into a revivalist soup-kitchen, while Les McCann's aimless two-minute scat intro to "White Christmas" effectively kills the song off before it's started. Most ineffectual of all, though, are versions of "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Little Drummer Boy" on which Me'shell Ndegeocello and Spearhead's Michael Franti, respectively, merely recite the words a line ahead of the group's delivery. The decent tracks are few and far between: the fallen-choirboy tones of Aaron Neville's melismatic falsetto floating blissfully over the group's deeper register harmonies on "Joy To The World" offer lessons in technique and aptness to all showboating divas, but the best track here is the rocking gospel number "Born in Bethlehem", which clearly profits from Mavis Staples' long familiarity with the same gospel heritage (and repertoire) as The Blind Boys.