Street Sounds: Spreading the gospel with Talkin’ Christmas

Vocal gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama and folk-blues veteran Taj Mahal bring a needed shot of uplift and pathos in a hectic time.

The 70-year-old Grammy winning vocal gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama got their start in 1944. They bring that continuity and a feeling of timelessness to their Talkin’ Christmas holiday season recording with folk-blues veteran Taj Mahal guesting.

Two of the original members from ’44 are still there: singers Jimmy Carter (not the former peanut farmer) and Clarence Fountain.

No Room in the Inn is an exemplary track here – it’s not a frosty Christmas ditty like those that are usually trotted out at this time of year by many.  Instead, it’s an old-time get-to-church blues/gospel hybrid that evokes the sense of a southern revival meeting. But the feeling in the song is one that is instantly recognized and appreciated at this time of year.

Singers like Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe made recordings similar in spirit decades back that dig deep into the gospel tradition and The Blind Boys of Alabama are carrying on in an updated version of that style of spiritual Christmas music.

Guitarist/singer Taj Mahal’s rich acoustic guitar accompaniment is a natural companion, a lively instrumental voice that links the group’s sound to a distant past as much as it accentuates its vibrant character (The Sun is Rising).

Perhaps the most significant song on the album is the poignant, soul-tinged track What Can I Do? The song addresses the loneliness and isolation that many people experience at this time of year in a dignified call-and-response performance. Like the rest of the record, it’s a much needed shot of uplift and pathos in a hectic time.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who write a weekly music column for The Morning Star.