The Blind Boys of Alabama were never the very best Golden Age-era a cappella gospel act. But they have always been master showmen — and to the general audience, they're perhaps best known just for being, for lasting this long. As ambassadors of this great American sound, they've been awarded all manner of small honors in their later days, from backing up popular musicians such as Ben Harper and Steve Earle to (most awesomely) recording the theme song for one of the seasons of The Wire. In gospel circles, the Blind Boys are known for their hard-singing, full-throated "shout" style. They're renowned as well for a series of incredibly weepy, sweeping paeans to a deceased mother figure ("If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again" and "I Can See Everybody's Mother But Mine" being the most well-known).
This lengthy retrospective is culled from the group's late era, from the '70s to the '90s. Considering the group started in 1937 at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Alabama, it's certainly understandable that this was not their peak artistic success (that would be their sides from the '40s and '50s for Vee-Jay and Specialty). Sure, the voices have grown a touch hoarse and some of the backing arrangements are a tad hokey, but this is nonetheless incredibly spirited and emotional music.