Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Worth It In 2011: #39 - Blind Boys of Alabama

The Worth It scale of unfair value judgments is fiendishly simple: if an album doesn't feel like a chore to sit through again, it's Worth It. If it's anything other than that, I just forget about it. Well, I don't totally forget about it, because I keep a list of everything, but there are several highly-placed Not Worth Its that I wouldn't hate you for liking, and that are probably quality music in the Objective and Godly scale of fair value judgments. But I wouldn't go around repping for them.

(A Worth It album basically equals a Sheep over at my "Sheep & Goats" column at the Burnside Writers Collective, though I occasionally grade a tad easier there. It seems to equal a high 6 or above at PopMatters. If I had the exact same taste as Robert Christgau, B+ and above would probably be Worth It. Everything I'm talking up in this Top 40, though, is A- at the lowest, or 8 out of 10 on the PopMatters scale.)

This criterion is useful to remember when it comes to an album like Take the High Road, which isn't the most ambitious or exciting thing in the world, I'll grant you, but which never doesn't sound good and always feels like a pleasure to listen to again. And there are little surprises, chief among them Lee Ann Womack being a total beast on the mic. I think I'm most surprised that I haven't gotten tired of this album yet, no matter how often it comes on.

Blind Boys of Alabama
Take the High Road
(Saguaro Road)

From Sheep & Goats:

Smooth countrypolitan piano and organ over a forthright shuffle, and some Blind Boys come in: “I was a burden…” Impossible! “I was a burden…” You’re national treasures! “I was a burden ‘til the Lord laid his hands on me.” Over the past 72 years(!) the gospel singers have perfected a blend of passion, good humor, gentleness, shouting, rhythmic acuity, and mile-wide vibrato that delivers songs as naturally as plain speech or breathing. Somehow all the vast enormity of the Christian walk resides in their voices. And THEN Lee Ann Womack comes in, looks us in the eye, and admits, “I was a burden to my motherrrrrrr / And to my fatherrrrrrr / My sister and brotherrrrrrrrr”. What, for being too perfect? No, she was on “dope, whiskey, and wine”, hopeless, losing her mind, until the Lord laid his hands on her. I’m no Dr. Drew, but I do wonder if the elements of her vocal performance that make it so incredibly sexy, her vibrancy and authority, are related to her past addiction. Maybe she tried to feed the vibrancy with chemicals, which worked OK until she became a burden, at which point she and God mustered up all her authority to get sober. Womack is brilliant here, pushing through unstated vulnerability up to her final triumphant “HA!” …Um, I suppose I should mention there’s 11 other country songs on this album, all good, loosey-goosily co-produced by the shaggy Jamey Johnson, some with different guest stars. Vince Gill! He sings real good. OK, I’ll go back to being smitten now.

Way better than Buddy Miller's The Majestic Silver Strings.

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