The spirit of the South hit New York on a wintry evening and left a Times Square audience with a warm and lasting glow. First, Ruthie Foster and Paul Thorn divided the stage, alternating tunes, then maestro Allen Toussaint brought on his incomparable grand piano flourishes; last, the evening was turned over to the Blind Boys of Alabama, who raised the roof to the Heavens.
The Blind Boys don’t just sing gospel, they live and breathe it. Since 1944, the group has spread the Word and the music. “I’ll Find A Way,” a tune from their October, 2013 release, showed up early in the set, along with “Spirit in the Sky,” which will never be confused with the Norman Greenbaum original, but I dare anyone to sit still for the Blind Boys’ rendition, either.
Always a highlight of their show, the Boys did an extended “Amazing Grace,” set to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” (which also appears on the latest album). It lasted close to 15 minutes, and included solos by guitarist and musical director Joey Williams and bassist Trea Pierce, whom Allen Toussaint had accurately described to me as “monster” earlier in the evening.
Tour manager Willie “Chuck” Shivers has an added responsibility above and beyond the average TM’s duties, since he guides his band—hand-on-shoulder, single file—on and off stage, backstage and anywhere else their profession leads them. That said, it must be a thrill to lead singer Clarence Fountain through the audience to receive his props. During a lengthy “Look Where He Brought Me,” Shivers walked Fountain past every single person at B.B. King’s before they returned to the stage.
Sitting next to me, two very elegant women sipping Aqua Pena got the Holy Spirit, sprang up and testified, waving their manicured, bejeweled hands high. It occurred to me that if praising the Lord had been this infectious and this much fun when I was a kid, more of us would be a churchgoers today. Amen to that, brothers and sisters, and shout Hallelujah! for the Blind Boys of Alabama.
– Suzanne Cadgene