Out of Alabama, the venerated Blind Boy delivers his sunset solo album – invigorating and inspired.
Too young to join his mates and become a member of THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA, Jimmy Carter ploughed his own furrow and sang with the likes of FIVE BLIND BOYS OF MISSISSIPPI until the alumni of Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind welcomed him in their midst back in 1982. Forty years on, the ensemble’s profile hasn’t dimmed, but the singer sensed it was time to try and strike on his own; and a matter of “now or never” resulted in this brilliant record.
His voice still strong and his message ever-relevant, Carter possesses much more gravitas at 87, reaching beyond gospel, genre-wise, in the way Ray Charles did – he’s mining a rich Appalachian vein in the deeply spiritual “Crossing The Threshold” that’s adorned with violin and pedal steel and has to do with one’s power to believe, not with mortality – yet even the seemingly secular subject matter of songs on display will prove to be deceptive. So don’t be short-sighted by the Latin-tinctured breeziness of opener “After The Storm” where Ecclesiastic lines are concealed in acoustic lace for the veterans supple, and sometimes slightly serrated, vocals to deliver to the piece’s philosophic fore, and let the album’s elegant title track roll across an unhurried piano boogie and wrap Jimmy’s warm roar in sympathetic backing, the call-and-response of sorts.
But while the ebullient “Dream On” that’s brimming with effervescence and features an infectious brass riff and scintillating ivories to elevate Carter’s emotive phrases to heavenly heights, there’s a swampy, bluesy vibe to “Find Your Way Home” which will find Jimmy well-grounded in the most traditional form of the music he’s been singing for decades and ultimately chiseled here, on the songs penned for the most part by producer Ron Pullman whose guitar helps the artist drive the latter number to bliss. However, the profound sentiment of ballad “I Am With You Still” required the engineering skills of Alan Parsons and support from the student choir of the elder statesman’s alma mater, before his run through the brisk “I Love To Pray” brings the smile to the listener’s face, and the translucent “Lord Take Me” – landing on a quote from “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – returns him to the church dais.
After that, the final, smoldering question of “Why Me” – or, rather, Carter’s answer to it – sounds like a heartfelt confession, Jimmy’s directly addressing his audience and reminiscing about the past, speaking about the autumn of his life and humbly accepting this new challenge to defy his age and carry the gospel into the future. Glory, glory, hallelujah!