Edinburgh Jazz Festival: The Blind Boys of Alabama

Blind Boys of Alabama. Picture: contributed
Blind Boys of Alabama. Picture: contributed
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Singing in one incarnation or another over the past seven decades, the Blind Boys of Alabama are a phenomenon, epitomising for many the sound of the American south, from the iniquitous days of segregation onwards.

The Blind Boys of Alabama ***

Festival Theatre

From their opening People Get Ready, the four singers’ heady gospel harmonising was supercharged by the R&B kick of their accompanying guitar, keyboard, bass guitar and drums, particularly in the rolling boogie of Spirit in the Sky and the vintage blues confessin’ of Nobody’s Fault But Mine.

Now in his late 80s, irrepressible lead-singer and co-founder Jimmy Carter sounds surprisingly forceful, while Paul Beasley’s at times alarmingly spectacular falsetto continues to raise the roof.

They are steeped in their music, but there was a sense of going through the motions with their repeated good-time exhortations, not to mention merchandising spiels. Arguably their most powerful number was a dark-toned interpretation of Amazing Grace, sung to the tune popularly associated with House of the Rising Sun, before they went into a crowd-working finale, with Carter insisting that his much-put-upon minder (and cheer-leader) guide him off stage and into the audience for much flesh-pressing while the band rocked on.

In support, Mississippi’s Como Mamas were the real deal, three a cappella gospel singers with an uncompromising, faith-fuelled holler. There was a moment of great charm when Della Daniels, talking about unsought celebrity status, declared in an astonished southern drawl: “I’m an old lady… and I am on YewTube!”