Sam Butler,
Raise Your Hands!
(Severn, 2015)

Sam Butler, long the guitarist for the Blind Boys of Alabama, releases his first solo album, Raise Your Hands!, produced by Brian Brinkerhoff. Brinkerhoff brought Butler a range of gospel-themed songs penned by (mostly) pop and rock composers from the secular end of the recording industry. They include Bruce Springsteen, the Bee Gees, Van Morrison and Eric Clapton, as well as Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield, both of whom cut some gospel material over the course of long careers.

Backing Butler, who sings and plays, are Roosevelt Collier (celebrated for his expertise in the "sacred steel" style), Marco Giovino (drums and percussion) and Viktor Krauss (double bass).

Not unexpectedly given the experience and professionalism of the participants, the album is a satisfying piece of work. As one who doesn't pay much attention to mainstream popular music, I confess that all but two or three of these songs are new to me -- at least if I've heard them in their original forms, they didn't stick in memory -- but they're good ones. I particularly like Tom Waits' "Gospel Train," clearly intended to sound like a variant of the traditional standard "This Train is Bound for Glory." If some numbers are encased within a wall of electronic sound against which even a voice as tough as Butler's appears to struggle to compete, he manages to hold his own.

Overall, this is rock-solid stuff and a sparkling showcase for Butler's talents. A project like this could easily have fallen on its face, but if at moments improbably, this one manages to stand in proud testimony all the way through.

music review by
Jerome Clark

12 December 2015

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