There Will Be a Light
Ben Harper's history with the Blind Boys of Alabama has been an evolving one that has moved from being a guest on their landmark Higher Ground offering and touring with them in Europe, to the Blind Boys joining Ben and the Innocent Criminals on-stage at the front and back of the show. This album began as a series of rehearsals for collaboration on a Blind Boys of Alabama record. Recorded in two sessions, the vibe in the room was loose and creative enough that the two acts ended up with an album of collaborative material for joint release. And this is a collaboration in the truest sense of the word. It's not just Ben playing gospel, or the Blind Boys of Alabama singing on a Ben Harper record. These ten tunes — with seven Harper originals written specifically for the sessions, the rest traditional gospel tunes and covers — showcase Harper and the Innocent Criminals alongside the Blind Boys of Alabama. The album kicks off with Harper's "Take My Hand," a funky gospel tune that showcases a Fender Rhodes and Harper's wah-wah pedal underscored by the call and response of the Blind Boys repeating the title after each sung line of the verse, before Clarence Fountain takes it out. "Wicked Man" is a Southern soul tune that has a Muscle Shoals groove and a beautiful vocal weave on the refrain. "Church House Steps" is pure gospel groove with a Hammond B3 and a smoking duet between the Blind Boys' layered harmonies and Harper on the verses with full-on blues feel in his singing and playing. There's a killer cover of the Bob Dylan/Danny O'Keefe tune, "Well, Well, Well," with Delta blues bottleneck shimmering through the intertwined vocal lines. The deep, nocturnal sparseness of "Satisfied Mind" is a complete re-reading of the nugget with a swampy backbeat. And this album works beautifully. Nothing sounds forced, all of it loose and comfortable and the vocal performances on both sides are simply stellar. Highly recommended.