By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Grammy winning group shines at the Arlene Schnitizer Concert Hall
National treasure is a term that gets thrown around pretty loosely in music circles, but if anyone qualifies for such a lofty descriptor it has to be the Blind Boys of Alabama.
The group visited Portland Friday night, playing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Friday was also the date the group reissued two Grammy winning albums: Spirit of the Century (2001) and Higher Ground (2002). Both albums were reissued through Omnivore Recordings and include bonus live tracks.
Jimmy Carter's indomitable enthusiasm carried the band's performance Friday night as the group worked their way through some of their best material including People Get Ready, Spirit in the Sky, Nobody's Fault but Mine, Amazing Grace, and Higher Ground.
All are staples of their live shows and demonstrate why the gospel group is still relevant. You don't have to be religious to enjoy their music and if you don't feel uplifted by Carter's vocals and energy, then you probably haven't figured out how to really enjoy life.
Spirit of the Century and Higher Ground each won Grammy awards for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album and feature the Blind Boys at their absolute best. Both albums were produced by John Chelew (John Hiatt, Ruthie Foster) with assistance from Chris Goldsmith.
Both albums feature numerous guests. David Lindley, John Hammond, Danny Thompson, and Charlie Musselwhite all appear on Spirit of the Century. On Higher Ground, the Blind Boys are backed by Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Ben Harper also appears on the album.
Each original album stands on its own, but the reissues include previously unreleased live material that truly showcases how good the Blind Boys can be in a live setting. Spirit of the Century includes seven tracks performed live in New York at the Bottom Line and Higher Ground includes seven tracks from KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic program.
I've got a slight preference for Higher Ground, but both albums shine in their own ways. Both are available now on CDs and digital download from Omnivore Recordings.