By the mid-2000s, The Blind Boys of Alabama were in the midst of a late-career resurgence that saw the group being introduced to new audiences and receiving critical acclaim and numerous awards. Continuing this hot streak was Atom Bomb, an album that featured several guest stars and showcased the group's signature blend of gospel, blues, R&B and rock. Originally released in 2005, the album has been rereleased with bonus tracks and expanded liner notes.
The album opens with "(Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb," a song that likens the return of Jesus Christ to that of an atom bomb and says that people are more worried about the bomb hitting. Backed by only bass and an up-tempo drumbeat, the group delivers an infectious, catchy track that runs counter to its serious subject matter. The Gift of Gab from Blackalicious guests on "Demons," a song that blends rap, blues and gospel and shows how adept the group is at mixing genres. The song is not exclusively any one of those genres but rather something new and exciting. The late Billy Preston features on organ and piano in what would be one of his last recorded performances. It also includes David Hidalgo from Los Lobos on guitar, one of several songs he appears on.
"I Know I've Been Converted" features a strong lead vocal from Jimmy Carter over some swamp-like guitar from Hidalgo. John Chelew adds a church organ to this moving track. George Scott gives a laid back vocal on "Old Blind Barnabus," with the group adding their trademark harmonies to fill out the sound. Sadly, Scott died just as this album was being released
As they had on previous albums, The Blind Boys mix the sacred with the secular, by covering Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" and Blind Faith's "Presence Of The Lord." The former is played faster than the original, with Hidalgo adding some Billy Gibbons-esque guitar leads while staying true to the song's melody. The latter once again features Preston and Clarence Fountain gives a moving, soulful vocal on this fine cover.
The Gift Of Gab returns for album closer "Moses," a track that showcases the group's haunting harmonies. Accompanied only by Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and John Chelew on organ, the group delivers a powerful gospel message to close out the album.
The album features a number of bonus tracks in the form of instrumental versions of seven of the 10 songs. While the musicianship here is top notch and worth showcasing, the real stars of these albums are The Blind Boys Of Alabama themselves and their absence in the instrumentals is felt. Still the music on these tracks remains a powerful testament to its creators' abilities.
With a recorded output dating back to the 1940s, one would think there wouldn't be much left for The Blind Boys Of Alabama to accomplish; yet here they are, still performing in 2018. Atom Bomb finds them effortlessly mixing genres while staying close to their gospel roots. The album is at once contemporary and traditional and well worth a listen.