Founded at the Talladega Institute for the Blind in 1939, the Blind Boys of Alabama settled on their appellation in response to their rivals, the now-deceased Blind Boys of Mississippi. In the early days, while signed to Specialty Records, the 'Bama Blind Boys watched their peers Little Richard and Sam Cooke turn from praising the Lord to praising their babies in order to sell records. Group founder Clarence Fountain places no blame on their God-spurning colleagues, saying, "Gospel didn't pay enough." The Blind Boys, however, made no such compromises: They chose to sing only gospel but were willing to sing on unhallowed ground, determining that the lingering souls who searched for connection in nightclubs might need it most.
Higher ground aside, though, the Blind Boys wouldn't mind selling a million records before bringing their 60-year career to a close, and their new album, Spirit of the Century, might be their best chance yet. On the release, David Lindley, Charlie Musselwhite, John Hammond, and others lend a distinctive air of bluesy familiarity to traditionals like "No More" and "Soldier," while giving the unwashed further comfort by visiting Tom Waits' "Jesus Gonna Be Here" and "Way Down in the Hole," Ben Harper's "Give a Man a Home," and the Rolling Stones' "Just Wanna See His Face." (The group also tackles "Run on for a Long Time," a traditional most recently popularized by Moby, and "Amazing Grace," as sung to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun.") Apparently, it took the Blind Boys awhile to feel comfortable with the words of Keith Richards and Waits rolling around in their mouths, but eventually the Lord shone through -- a good thing too, since the immediate accessibility of the lyrics gives the layman an opening into true gospel. In the end, it is on traditionals like "Motherless Child," "The Last Time," and "Good Religion" -- where instrumentation is at a minimum and the songs are carried entirely on the harmonies of four devout old men -- that the Blind Boys really get the glow. The Blind Boys of Alabama open for the Tommy Castro Band on Friday, May 18, at the Great American Music Hall at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 885-0750.
Rising out of a conceptual collision at the corner of India Street and Manhattan Avenue, New York City's Dum Dum Project blends the tranquil essence of Eastern devotional music with the gritty intensity of back-alley beats. On Export Quality leader Sean Dinsmore (aka DJ Cavo) layers the penetrating drone of '70s cult icon Asha Puthili over crunchy percussion, distorted vocal samples, trancelike rhythms, and frothy, nearly ironic synthesizer lines. Elsewhere, he weaves the musky sitar strains of Supercuz's Jason Goodrow and the delicate rhythm of Miles Davis collaborator Badal Roy's tablas between bone-heavy bass lines and subterranean pulses, forming a mesmerizing new sound that is hazier and more hazardous than anything coming out of the U.K.'s Asian Underground. The Dum Dum Project performs on Friday, May 18, at Amoeba Records at 6 p.m. Admission is free; call 831-1200. The act also appears with J-Boogie's Dubtronic Science and DJ Sep on Sunday, May 20, at the Elbo Room at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 552-7788.