The Blind Boys of Alabama, "Duets"

69 Billboard Rating

The Blind Boys of Alabama have been in business for generations, but only during this decade has the enduring gospel group achieved broader recognition and acclaim. Much of that has come through the alliances the Blind Boys have made with artists from Ben Harper to Randy Travis, both of whom appear on the group's latest release, "Duets." Only four of the 14 tracks are new, but many-like the lovely "Magnificent Sanctuary Band" (featuring Susan Tedeschi)-may be unfamiliar to Blind Boys fans. That track was culled from an album issued by the featured artist, but the previously unreleased cuts make for some of the most exciting moments. With the help of Toots & the Maytals' Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, the Blind Boys meld nyabinghi reggae and gospel on "Perfect Peace," while a collaboration with bluesman John Hammond on "One Kind Favor" sounds like a doom-filled soundtrack to a midnight bayou tour. Other guest spots include performances by Lou Reed ("Jesus"), Bonnie Raitt ("When the Spell Is Broken") and Jars of Clay ("Nothing but the Blood").-Wes Orshoski