THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA (above) are one of gospel’s (and by definition, soul’s) most enduring institutions. Founded in 1939 (!) in the awfully named Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind, an iteration of the group is still going strong and making sweet and passionate,  powerful and testifying music.

The “boys” have just released a wonderful new album, ‘Echoes Of The South’. The line up for the recordings was Jimmy Carter, Ricky McKinnie, Ben Moore, Paul  Beasley, the Reverend Julius Love and Joey Williams and the set is named for the first radio show that had the bravery to book the group. That, of course, was way back and, therefore, the group see the 11 tracker as a kind of coming home and in their usual way the selected songs are a mix of traditional spirituals and well-chosen covers.

Of the covers there are outstanding versions of the Impressions’ ‘Keep On Pushing’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Heaven Help Us All’ . Most poignant of the covers though is the Homer Banks/Lester Snell song ‘Friendhsip’ which was  the last song recorded by Pop Staples just  before his death in 1999. Oddly it was never released till a retrospective collection in 2015.

Those three songs and others like ‘Send it On Down’, ‘Wide River To Cross’ and ‘Nothing But Love’ are all part of what the group see as their fundamental mission – to spread love, light and friendship (spiritual and secular) and all are delivered with passion, real soul commitment and, of course, impeccable gospel harmonies!

The album’s release is dedicated to the memories of band members Ben Moore and Paul Beasley who both died after the recordings had been made. Intriguingly, the album also includes a take on the Staple Singers’ ‘The Last Time’ on which they sing “Maybe the last time we sing together”. Sadly that was true.

THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA’S ‘Echoes Of The South’ is out now via Single Lock Records and comes recommended for anyone who really cares about real soul music. And if you ever doubted the link between gospel and soul, then grab aa listen to the track ‘Jesus You Been Good To Me’ – the most soulful six minutes of the year so far!

The cover art work (below), by the way is in braille.