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Though the group's been together for about 60 years, the Blind Boys have finally begun to attain the kind of international exposure they deserve. The attention comes partly from the public's broadening interest in roots-oriented music, and the savvy song selection that makes the Blind Boys' recent albums so interesting. Higher Ground takes this formula a few steps further, throwing in the instrumental accompaniment of the increasingly popular "sacred steel" player Robert Randolph and his Family Band. Great voices, great songs and a great band -- it's a sure thing.

Smart song choices give Higher Ground a strong, earthy yet still spiritual feel. Works by Curtis Mayfield ("People Get Ready"), Stevie Wonder ("Higher Ground") and the alternately sacred and profane Prince ("The Cross") take on added significance when performed by the Blind Boys. Vocalists Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott deliver their traditional gospel style, filling the songs with rich harmonies and the classic call-and-response interactions. Meanwhile, Randolph's band lays down a rhythm-heavy backbeat that accentuates the joy and the message in the words. And when the Blind Boys are complemented by the acoustic blues playing of Ben Harper on three tracks, the down-home feel is even more authentic.

The Blind Boys of Alabama combine a contemporary perspective on the trials of life with a rich musical heritage that's comforting and reassuring.

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