Blind Boys of Alabama fight off the blues

Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, Cal., February 10, 2023

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

They're no longer billed as The Five Blind Boys of Alabama because there are only three blind singers in the group these days. However, a trio of three strong soul singers still creates one powerful black gospel sound, which this triple threat brought with full force to the campus of UC Irvine.

The act's setlist mixed traditional church songs with a few contemporary numbers for a fast-paced, mostly lively evening of music. The only interruption in the group's regular set was when the audience sang happy birthday to longtime member, Jimmy Carter, who would celebrate his birthday the next day.

Opener, "Do Lord," brought back memories of singing this one in Sunday school, while "People Get Ready," the oft covered Impressions song, created mental images of the Civil Rights movement. However, when these vocalists tackled Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky," this familiar oldie evolved from a dopy one-hit-wonder song, into a funky Stevie Wonder-esque sonic workout.

A few inclusions drew from the classic blues songbook, including "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and "I Shall Not Be Moved," while others – like "Amazing Grace" -- came right out of the church pew hymnal. One of the newest songs, in an otherwise mainly tried-and-true setlist, was Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," which was used in HBO's "The Wire. "

These singers were backed by a talented instrumental quartet that included drums, bass, guitar and piano/organ. The vocalists basically stayed put, only standing up once in a while to dance and/or clap along with the music. Carter acted the part of MC, many times introducing songs and giving them historical context.

Although all The Blind Boys of Alabama's songs were spiritually-based, you didn't need to be especially religious to enjoy this show. These strong singers continue to work with contemporary artists because there is a timelessness to the songs they sing and the musical values they espouse. You may not be a soldier in the army of the Lord, as one song expressed, but you certainly left feeling like you'd just spent quality time successfully fighting off life's blues.

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
Visit our sister publication Country Standard Time