A band doesn't last for more than 60 years without doing a few things right--not least of which is knowing how to keep things fresh.
One can argue that part of the reason the Blind Boys of Alabama have been around so long, apart from the fact that new members have replaced the originals who passed on (Clarence Fountain is the only original Boy left) is because the band understands that while gospel music can be powerful, it can also get stale.
The Boys' new release, I'll Find a Way, is an example of how mixing old with new can be a very good thing.
There are times when the band sticks to its bread and butter, delivering rousing gospel songs. The lively "God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds" will make you dance before you realize what's happening, and even on slower tracks like the almost-century-old "Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave it There," there is a joyous undertone. When the band reels out a piano jazz number like "My God is Real," it demonstrates its penchant for creating stirring, soulful moments.
But there are some delightful curveballs, too. Would you expect to see the Boys do a cover of Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand" with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver)? Not only did Vernon produce I'll Find a Way, but this somber, ambient piano ballad is spectacularly beautiful, with subtle presentation throughout. With that track, Vernon teams up with the Boys' Jimmy Carter to create one of the album's most spine-tingling moments. Veteran singer-songwriter Patty Griffin also appears, helping to bring down the house with the raucous bluegrass-tinged closer, "Jubilee." Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs also guests on "I've Been Searching."
The Boys inject life into the music, and considering how long the band has been around, that says as much about its talent as it does the approach to music. Vocally, the Boys fill the tracks with appropriate amounts of joy, reflection, praise and gravitas, never placing too much focus on one element. If you like old-time gospel, blues and soul music as much as modern crooners and singer-songwriters, then I'll Find a Way is the perfect album.