It's best to set the record straight before anybody gets the idea that because the Dixie Hummingbirds have asked a number of friends from the secular music world to play with them, they are doing a Blind Boys of Alabama riff. Diamond Jubilation marks the Dixie Hummingbirds' 75th anniversary as a group. Fronted by the great Ira Tucker Sr., this quartet is performing at a creative peak and this album is the evidence. There are no pop songs here. This is a gospel program, even if those songs come from unlikely sources, like producer Larry Campbell. The guests here are relatively few and the instrumentation spare: there's Campbell, Dr. John (one cut), Levon Helm and Garth Hudson from the Band, Tony Garnier, and percussionist George Recile. The rest is the Hummingbirds rocking it up in joyful and reverent style; whether the tune is by Tucker such as "He Watches Over Me," a Dorothy Love Coates classic like "I've Been Born Again," something by Campbell like the country gospel ragtime of "Someday," the inimitable sacred blues of Buddy & Julie Miller as on "Too Many Troubles," or the canonical traditional song "Rasslin' Jacob," the treatment is the same. Here Tucker, and sometimes William Bright, front a group whose seams have long since been covered over by sheer musical skill and prayerful instinct. One listen to the album's opener, Rev. Dan Smith's nugget "God's Radar," is enough to take listeners out of current time and space and carry them into an entirely new emotional and sonic dimension. The instrumentation, mandolins, guitars, organic hand percussion, drums, and accordions serve the voices, not the other way around. Singing is what propels the tunes here, a joyful noise that is as liberating as the gospel itself. Take this one home and something will change, even if it's only for the duration of the recording.
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