When you pair the out-of-this-world harmonies of the Blind Boys of Alabama and the legendary songwriting of Marc Cohn for a new album, Work to Do, the results are as you would expect: transcendentally magical.
The unique partnership came about after Cohn had contributed a few songs to the Blind Boys of Alabama’s 2017 album, Almost Home. A special bond and connection was realized during those sessions, and Cohn began performing live with the Blind Boys at a number of select dates.
From those dates it was decided that a three-song EP containing two new Cohn originals, “Talk Back Mic,” and “Work to Do,” and a studio take on “Walk in Jerusalem,” long a Blind Boys concert staple, would be released. But following a strong response to their live sets the two artists performed together, it was decided a full-length album would be released instead. They used tracks from a live special that aired on PBS, which received rave reviews, to fill-out the remainder of the album, and the full-length, Work to Do, was created.
The beauty of Work to Do is the seamless melding of the two legendary talents. Often collaborative albums sound simply like two musicians singing together, but on Work to Do, the collaboration sounds like a true collaboration, a true melding of two unique styles into something wholly new. On the live “Silver Thunderbird,” the call and response between Cohn and the Blind Boys reeks of familiarity and years of performing together. It defies the logic that these musicians have only recently started playing together in the way all the parts fit perfectly together as if they have been playing together for decades.
Even songs that are intrinsically identifiable with each of the bands benefit from the collaboration. The Blind Boys of Alabama version of “Amazing Grace,” set to the tune of “Housing of the Rising Sun,” takes flight, proving, “how sweet the sound.” While Cohn’s signature tune, “Walking in Memphis,” finds life and a new strength it has not seen before with the Blind Boys powerful delivery that adds a new emotional layer to the well-known song.
The collaboration between Cohn and the Blind Boys of Alabama is what we hope for when legendary artists from diverse backgrounds come together. It highlights the best aspects of each, improves the others, and creates a new musical landscape which provides much new ground for fruitful discovery from the listener. We can only hope this pairing and collaboration still has plenty of work to do in the future.