Various Artists "God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson"

Blind Willie Johnson bridged the gap between secular and spiritual music. The itinerant preacher and street musician pulled equally from the blues and gospel, creating a unique perspective on the difficulties of day to day survival. Although he only lived forty-eight years and recorded a mere 29 tracks his music has resonated through the 75 years since his death. Chances are you are familiar with his songs even if you don’t recognize the authorship. God Don’t Never Change offers eleven new versions of his songs by a variety of admirers.

The release opens with Tom Waits’ sepia-toned rendition of “The Soul of a Man.” Backed by hand claps, slide guitar, brushed percussion, and production that sounds authentic to the period, Waits moves between growls and whinnies as he pleads for soulful guidance. As for Lucinda Williams credentials for singing gospel blues look no further than her composition “Get Right With God.” Here she takes on “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Her ragged southern drawl pulls out the penitent nature of the song. Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi do a straight forward rendering of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” with Trucks gorgeous slide work accompanying Tedeschi’s wrenching vocals. The Blind Boys of Alabama offer the most church-oriented interpretation on the album with “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time.”

Sinead O’Connor is yet another artist who has flirted with spirituality in her music. Her voice has grown weary over the years and she uses that edge to express a world-worn optimism in a future paradise on “Trouble Will Soon Be Over.” The Cowboy Junkies offer a surprisingly funky take on one of Johnson’s historically-based song. “Jesus is Coming” captures the apocalyptic fear that surrounded World War I and its accompanying pandemic, the Spanish Flu. Luther Dickinson teams up with The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band for “Bye and Bye I’m Going to See the King.” Waits and Williams take on second tracks and Maria McKee delivers an acoustic version of “Let Your Light Shine on Me.” The album raps with Rickie Lee Jones’ very raw version of “Dark was the Night-Cold Was the Ground.”

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)

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