This week’s list of new albums was a hefty one, including new material from Bonnie Raitt and Anthrax, as well as Willie Nelson paying homage to George Gershwin and live Jake Shimabukuro. There were plenty of other good albums to be sampled, and I did. When I had finished, there was a pretty clear choice. I decided to review the tribute album to the music of Blind Willie Johnson, which includes outstanding covers by Tom Waits, Cowboy Junkies, Lucinda Williams and many more incredible artists. Blind Willie Johnson is a blues artist that is often considered more along the lines of a street corner evangelist, with many of his songs containing lyrical content that was gospel in nature. Many of Johnson’s songs are still widely performed, today.
The fairly well-known “The Soul Of A Man” opens the album with Tom Waits commanding attention with his gravelly voice in a ‘call and response’ manner. With resonator guitar and the choir clapping, it is a perfect tribute to Johnson.
After a sweet guitar intro, Lucinda Williams hums to sing on “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. Her style and warble bring the perfect dash country to Johnson’s gospel blues.
Derek Trucks opens “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning” with some sweet slide guitar. Susan Tedeschi adds her soulful vocals to the deeper voices of the backing singers, which makes this one a stand-out.
Cowboy Junkies put a twist on their cover of “Jesus Is Coming” by using what sounds like a clip of Blind Willie Johnson to give them a template for their own spectacular country roots additions to the song.
“Mother’s Children Have A Hard Time” had more of a blues flavor when Johnson played it, but The Blind Boys Of Alabama truly take this number to church, with tremendous harmonies and gospel steel guitar.
Sinead O’Connor seemed like an interesting choice for this particular tribute, but on “Trouble Will Soon Be Over” she seems like a natural singing old American spirituals. Picture a celtic singer and a Baptist choir in perfect unison, and you have this performance.
Luther Dickinson is joined by The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band on “Bye & Bye I’m Going To See The King”. This song has a march feel, with some fabulous guitar and beautiful fife to round out the sound.
Lucinda Williams opens “God Don’t Never Change” acapella with instrumentation trickling in. On her second cut on the album, Williams solidifies the country gospel blues sound that absolutely fits her voice.
“John The Revelator” sees Tom Waits making his second appearance, as well. Waits brings vocal fire and brimstone to this frequently covered classic, while the backing vocals attempt to soften the edges, just a bit.
This more folk rendition of “Let Your Light Shine On Me” by Maria McKee takes a nice breath of gospel glory, with the incorporation of the organ to her more acoustic style.
I am a fan of Rickie Lee Jones, but “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” seems like a struggle for her, both to sing and to play. Unfortunately, as more musicians get into the mix, it becomes jumbled and messy. I was hoping to like this version, but I don’t think it is going to happen.
Despite one hiccup, “God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson” is a remarkable piece of music, that not only gives a hats off to Johnson, but also seeks to show how timeless these songs are and how they know no boundaries when it comes to reinterpretation of these classics for new audiences. It would be hard to go wrong with phenomenal artists like The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Luther Dickinson and Sinead O’Connor on the album, and by my accounts, near impossible. If you are a fan of Blind Willie Johnson, you should definitely pick this up, but blues lovers will also find something to spark their interest in this particular style of music. That’s What I Know, So That’s What You Know!! Enjoy!!
HAPPY LISTENING!!!! 😉