Higher Ground

Thanks to the keen guidance of their longtime booking agent, Chris Goldsmith, this 60-year-old outfit recently embraced a more blues-infused sound that has rejuvenated the act while attracting a more

Thanks to the keen guidance of their longtime booking agent, Chris Goldsmith, this 60-year-old outfit recently embraced a more blues-infused sound that has rejuvenated the act while attracting a more mainstream, NPR-favoring crowd. Goldsmith's suggestions for covers and collaborations (John Hammond, Ben Harper, etc.) have resulted in what are two of the most thrillingly soulful albums to come from the gospel, blues, or soul genres in recent years—2001's Spirit of the Century and the new Higher Ground. Spirit is better, as Ground suffers at times from a lack of cohesion between separately recorded instrumental and vocal performances. Yet the set shines on such riveting cuts as Harper's "I Shall Not Walk Alone," which the group has single-handedly turned into a should-be traditional, and the inspiring, irresistibly funky recital of the 23rd Psalm done to a swampy, slide guitar-led cover of Funkadelic's "You and Your Folks." Faith, soul, and quality by the truckload.—WO