Since their formation in 1937, The Blind Boys of Alabama have kept the gap between sacred and profane music more narrow than most. But their recent recordings have been hampered by a much too polished contemporary-gospel approach.
"Spirit of the Century" aims to turn that around. Rock and blues players David Lindley, Charlie Musselwhite and John Hammond join in to approximate the Delta blues sounds of The Blind Boys' youth; songs by Tom Waits ("Jesus Gonna Be Here"), Roy Harper and even the Rolling Stones (a spirited rave-up of "Just Wanna See His Face") mix with old gospel nuggets. It is where the band steps back, however, that "Spirit" is most engaging. The album's closer, "The Last Time," features Lawrence Fountain's sandpapery voice and the richly imperfect vocal backing and hand-claps of the other four members, all gathered around the same microphone, the same way The Blind Boys sang at their first performances.