Go Tell It On The Mountain

The Blind Boys Of Alabama, 2003

Go Tell It On The Mountain is the first holiday theme album in the group's 60-year history, and their third release for Real World Records. This 12-song collection is a work of both comforting familiarity and startling innovation, with genre-crossing guest vocal appearances by Solomon Burke, George Clinton, Michael Franti, Chrissie Hynde, Shelby Lynne, Les McCann, Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, and Tom Waits. There are special instrumental guest performances by Richard Thompson (electric guitar) and Robert Randolph (pedal steel guitar) in addition to a superb studio band, led by organist John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin & Wood fame) with jump-blues guitar ace Duke Robillard and the peerless rhythm section of Danny Thompson (double bass) and Michael Jerome (drums).

Go Tell It On The Mountain is produced by John Chelew, producer of the Blind Boys' two previous Grammy Award-winning albums: Spirit of the Century (2001) and Higher Ground (2002).

Some highlights include:

"I Pray On Christmas" with Solomon Burke
Soul music legend Solomon Burke reaches into his potent upper range on this Harry Connick, Jr. composition - and his performance is a vivid reminder of his own deep roots in urban gospel. "I remember him from when he was a boy preacher in the Fifties," recalls Clarence Fountain. "He had a church in Philadelphia--and all the time he was singing rock and roll, he was pastoring the church!"
Solomon Burke, for his part, has "always idolized the Blind Boys. They have been around for more than 60 years and still, here they are: the hottest, workin', movin', groovin', jumpin', singin', shoutin' gospel quartet in America--I'd say in the world!"

"Go Tell It On The Mountain" with Tom Waits
The gravel-voiced singer-songwriter meets the gospel tradition on a timeless spiritual. The bluesy, minor-key arrangement recalls the Blind Boys' earlier transformation of "Amazing Grace."
John Chelew: "I got a bunch of versions of 'Go Tell It On the Mountain', but they were all in a major key and all a little soft. So I sat at the nine-foot Steinway at Capitol and just put the song to minor chords. So we got this tougher, more mournful chord structure that inspired the harmo-nies you hear--and they're really weird harmonies, almost like doo-wop."

"In The Bleak Midwinter" with Chrissie Hynde and Richard Thompson
Although largely unfamiliar to US audiences, this song is a hallowed British Christmas standard. The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde worked for two days to capture the perfect vocal take. The result ranks with her finest ballad performances, complemented by Richard Thompson's ringing electric guitar solo.

"Joy To the World" with Aaron Neville
On a superb a cappella version of this Yuletide hymn, recorded live in a New Orleans studio, Aaron Neville sings delicate filigrees of counter-melody in and around the Blind Boys' chorale. "I was listening to the Blind Boys back in the Fifties," says Aaron. "My brothers and I used to walk down the street harmonizing, trying to sound like the Blind Boys. Their singing still sends chills down my spine--they've got that old soul!"

"Born In Bethlehem" with Mavis Staples
This (literally) breathtaking circular chant-song finds Mavis Staples in typically exuberant form, and no wonder: "That song was based on the version that the Staples Singers recorded in 1959 for our Christmas album 'The 25th Day of December'," she explains. "Pops [her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples] came up with all these old songs, and 'Born in Bethlehem' was my favorite of them all."

"I've known the Blind Boys since I was a shorty. They would often perform at the DuSable High School auditorium in Chicago - it would be a big package show that might include the Soul Stirrers, Brother Joe May, the Swanee Quintet or the Dixie Hummingbirds. Clarence Fountain would bend his knees and do a little strut we called the Camel Walk - and the audience would just go wild."

"Away In A Manger" with George Clinton and Robert Randolph
A tender seasonal hymn is recast as a mischievously subversive 12-bar blues, with George Scott's lead vocal intertwined with the muttering, chuckling, yowling voice of Parliament/Funkadelic founder George Clinton. Meanwhile, Robert Randolph applies some wicked wah-wah to his pedal steel guitar solo.

Randolph says he some-times wonders: "Was there something in the food that made people able to sing like George Scott, back in the day? Because that is what's so cool about being affiliated with the Blind Boys: Their music gives you a feeling you just can't get from anyone else."

"White Christmas" with Les McCann
Les McCann's arrangement completely transforms this familiar chestnut, from his scat-sung intro to his myriad chord substitutions on piano. John Chelew: "Les' manager told us that the stroke he suffered in '95 had effected some of his playing but not all of it. But when he sat at the piano and started playing, I said: 'Man, nothing's missing here!'
"Les created an arrangement that virtually rewrote the song. It's so unusual, such a departure from any previous version, that it took the Blind Boys two days to learn how to sing it."

Reviews

  • (The Blind Boys) are a treat on stage, and on record that rare thing; a gospel act non-believers can enjoy on a daily basis... With exquistive harmonies from the Boys and a stellar cast of guests - plus a fantastic blues-funk-gospel band featuring John Medeski (organ), Duke Robillard (guitar) and Danny Thompson (bass) - it's one of the best Christmas albums you're ever likely to hear... Songlines (UK)
  • Wow! I wish all Christmas albums were as good as this. These guys sing with such gusto and rugged good heart that you feel the force of their sincerity and soulfulness... I can't imagine some of today's young whippersnappers making music as vital as this when they're octogenarians... Lacking in the tacky sentimentality that afflicts most Christmas fare, "Go Tell It On The Mountain" is arguably one of 2003's most soulful offerings. Blues & Soul (UK)
  • (The Blind Boys)... instil every live performance and studio session with such passion, integrity and conviction that they can make even such old chesnuts as Little Drummer Boy and White Christmas palatable. Being one of the greatest of gospel groups, they are on very safe ground when it comes to the hymns, but they also add gravitas to the more popular material. fRoots (UK)
  • A soulful star-studded Christmas cracker Unlike the majority of Yuletide albums, there's nothing remotely smaltzy or cloyingly sentimental about this seasonal offering from the veteran gospel group. Renowned for charter member Clarence Fountain's craggy lead vocal and their robust supporting harmonies, here the Blind Boys take on standards such as White Christmas and O Come All Ye Faithful and fashion them into stirring soul sermons. ...Aaron Neville pops up on a gorgeous a cappella rendering of Joy To The World while noteworthy cameos by funk guru George Clinton and Spearhead's Michael Franti add a slightly surreal edge to the proceedings. Mojo (UK)
  • Pop CD of the week ...a great band, way-above-average guest contributions (from Solomon Burke, Tom Waits and Shelby Lynne, among others) and, obviously, the impeccable vocals of The Blind Boys of Alabama... Chrissie Hynde's In The Bleak Midwinter is lifted by a subtle guitar part from Richard Thompson; Aaron Neville's sweet lead floats above the Blind Boys' robust backing on Joy To The World; and it's no surprise that Mavis Staples's contribution, a barnstorming run through Born in Bethlehem, is the highlight of the album. A law should be passed forcing anyone who plays one of Cliff's Christmas ditties to play this immediately afterwards. The Times (UK)
  • album review Shelby Lynn smoulders alongside leading Blind Boy Clarence Fountain on The Christmas Song; Solomon Burke does his ferocious soulman turn on I Pray On Christmas and Spearhead's Michael Franti embraces the sinister undertow to Little Drummer Boy. ...the Blind Boys turn an over-familiar hymn (Silent Night) into something spiritually uplifting. The magic of Christmas indeed. Evening Standard (UK)
  • Jesus Choice! What Christmas album would Jesus listen to? Believers and non-might concur that this year, it'd be the Blind Boys of Alabama's Go Tell It On The Mountain (Real World). Guest stars either counter the Boy's gospel grizzledness (Chrissie Hynde, Shelby Lynne) or sound similarly septuagenarian (Tom Waits, George Clinton), with players like John Medeski turning up the spiritual-blues simmer. Entertainment Weekly (USA)
  • A Rare Seasonal Recording One of those rare seasonal recordings you wouldn't mind hearing in March, or July. The venerable vocal group strikes an ideal balance between material familiar and fresh in a session that unfolds with the electricity and impeccable pacing of a gospel sermon. Icing on the cake is the presence of a far-flung group of guests including Tom Waits, Shelby Lynne and Aaron Neville. The group's holiday tour stops Saturday at UCLA. LA Times (USA)
  • album review People tend to forget that Christmas is a holiday rooted in religion, and many songs equated with the holiday also are steeped in religious overtones. So what better group to marry the two together than gospel's best, The Blind Boys of Alabama? Even better, how about a bunch of musical guests helping...all mesh well with the three powerful voices that weave their way through this holiday disc... Every song here conveys the the spirit of Christmas. The Blind Boys of Alabama have created another winner. It's so good you don't need snow on the ground to enjoy it. Relix (USA)
  • album review As usual, there is no shortage of new Christmas albums this year...One that stands out from the pack is "Go Tell It On The Mountain" by The Blind Boys Of Alabama. Collaborating with an all-star cast...this venerable vocal group puts a gospel spin on songs like 'Silent Night', 'Joy To The World' and 'The Little Drummer Boy'. Newark Star-Ledger (USA)
  • album review Is there anybody out there who does not love the Blind Boys of Alabama? We didn't think so. The group's latest disc and first Christmas-themed effort since they formed in 1939 is "Go Tell It On The Mountain", and we'd have to say it's the best of its kind. The Boston Globe (USA)
  • album review Beautifully rich singing... NY Daily News (USA)
  • album review The venerable choral group refreshes the genre with this passionate, inspiring album. People (USA)
  • album review It (The Blind Boys of Alabama) modestly turns itself into a richly harmonizing backup chorale for Aaron Neville, and it joins in hearty call-and-response with Tom Waits, George Clinton, Solomon Burke and Mavis Staples. Clarence Fountain gets cozy with Shelby Lynne in The Christmas Song... And when the Blind Boys perform a bluesy Silent Night on their own they show they don't need any help. New York Times (USA)
  • album review The Blind Boys of Alabama have been spreading their gospel since they started at the Alabama Institute For The Negro Blind in 1939. They're still a-wailin' and a-testifyin' on this clutch of festive favourites, each re-tooled to suit both their real-gone gospel harmonies and the sundry guest vocalists, including soul legend Solomon Burke on I Pray On Christmas (exquisite), the genius of Tom Waits on the title cut (wanton), Away In A Manger with funk titan George Clinton (damn!) and Born In Bethlehem with Mavis Staples (believe!). Get it on, lil' baby Jesus. Metro (Magazine Country)
  • album review When it comes to Christmas 2003, Go Tell it on the Mountain from The Blind Boys of Alabama is the carol collection to play at your yule-tide party. Not only does a percentage of the proceeds go to diabetes research - three of the Blind Boys are diabetic - but with Tom Waits and MeShell Ndegéocello on the credits, you can indulge your seasonal sentimentality with street cred intact! Why haul out Bing's "White Christmas" when jazz pianist, Les McCann can do it scat-style? Who needs Phil Spector when you've got George Clinton's 12-bar blues funk on "Away in a Manager" or Mavis Staples belting out "Born in Bethlehem"? With Waits growling in a minor key to the title track, Michael Franti free-styling on "The Little Drummer Boy" and Chrissie Hynde harmonising to Richard Thompson's guitar "In The Bleak Midwinter", there's no excuse for Slade this Christmas. That The Blind Boys of Alabama can enlist such a surprising and stellar cast on one CD is an indication of the esteem in which these double-grammy winning veterans of gospel music are held. Like earlier albums Spirit of the Century (2001) and Higher Ground (2002), John Chelew's production experiments with timeless traditional hymns to create a contemporary, sublime and often subversive sound. Robert Randulph's pedal steel on "Away in a Manger" is inspired as is MeShell Ndegéocello's sultry solo over "Come All Ye Faithful". Aaron Neville's a capella version of "Joy to the World" tenderly counterpoints the chorus while soul-singing pastor, Solomon Burke had me down on my praying knees. If you want to melt under the mistletoe and feel groovy as you make the stuffing, then get Go Tell it on the Mountain. I guarantee, your festival will flow. BBCi (UK - internet)
  • album review This Christmas-CD-to-end-all-Christmas-CDs features a host of amazing guest artists (Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Aaron Neville, and others!) coming alongside to augment the Blind Boys' own rich take on some absolutely classic Christmas standards. paste.com (internet)
  • You have never heard Christmas songs sounding quite like this before. In The Bleak Midwinter features a wonderful vocal from Chrissie Hynde and a ringing electric guitar solo from Richard Thompson. The title track teams the gravel-voiced Tom Waits with the Blind Boys on a powerful rendition of a timeless spiritual... Then there's the mighty Solomon Burke, who calls the Blind Boys the "hottest, workin', movin', groovin', jumpin', singin', shoutin' gospel quartet in the world"... Christmas albums can sometimes be a dubious prospect, with a varied quality and a pure mercenary intent. But here's one that truly breaks the seasonal mould by concentrating on great songs and glorious vocals. Go Tell It On The Mountain guarantees it's going to be a very cool yule indeed. HMV Choice (UK)
  • ...and even Tom Waits, rasping through the powerful title track. For this Christmas outing, exhilarating gospellers the Blind Boys have collaborated with a varied selection of "old friends". There are soulful work-outs with the likes of Solomon Burke (I Pray On Christmas), Mavis Staples (a gloriously swinging Born In Bethlehem), and even Tom Waits, rasping through the powerful title track. The Guardian (UK)
  • The legendary Blind Boys interpret some well-known Xmas songs in a way that only they can... ...but it is their choice of guests which add the icing to this rich cake. Tom Waits joins them for Go Tell It On The Mountain, and other tracks feature Chrissie Hynde, Aaron Neville and George Clinton to name but a few. This makes for a welcome relief from the usual MOR Christmas fodder. Music Week (UK)
  • album review As you might expect, the Blind Boys are very at home with Solomon Burke's rapturous 'I Pray On Christmas', Mavis Staples is as funky as hell - if that's allowed at Yuletide - on 'Born In Bethlehem', while the harmonies on 'Joy To The World' with Aaron Neville are to die for. What's more there's a seriously swinging band behind them all... So, although you might not rush to buy Christmas albums, make an exception for this. It's the silver thruppence amid the stodge that is the usual Christmas fare. Jazzwise (UK)