Gospel music has never made it onto my list of favorite genres, so when I read that this album consisted of spirituals, I expected to be tossing it into the reject pile after a perfunctory listen. In fact, Raise Your Hands! riveted my attention from first track to last and is now in heavy rotation around my house.
As it turns out, this solo debut from former Blind Boys of Alabama guitarist Sam Butler is not your father’s gospel album; in fact, while it taps gospel influences, it’s really all about rock and soul. Eschewing traditional sources, Butler turns to contemporary rock artists for all of his material. Writers include Bruce Springsteen (“Heaven’s Wall”), Van Morrison (”Full Force Gale”), Tom Waits (“Gospel Train”) and Curtis Mayfield (“Wherever You Leadeth”). There’s also a track from U2 (“Magnificent”) and even one from the Bee Gees (“The Lord”).
Butler—who has worked with the likes of Keith Richards and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen—delivers blistering guitar work throughout. His biggest asset, though, is his rich and powerful voice, which recalls the work of the latter-day Gary U.S. Bonds. On standouts like Eric Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord,” which outshines the Blind Faith original, and Eliza Gilkyson’s “Sanctuary,” Butler proves himself to be on a par with soul music’s finest singers.
Jeff Burger edited Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, both published by Chicago Review Press. He is working on a third book for the same publisher. His website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary.