Booths: The Blind Man Saw it All

Booth Brothers
The Blind Man Saw it All
Spring Hill, 2005

The much ballyhooed project from southern gospel’s most dexterous male trio, The Blind Man Saw it All showcases the Booth Brothers’ stylistic eclecticism. From country and R&B flavors, to praise and worship and traditionalesque sg, the Booths seem to be finding a stride of their own most notable for its variegation. The difference between this strategy and the less mature smorgasbord approach to song selection and stylistic variety that younger trios might take (see First Love, for instance) is that here the tunes cohere vocally - the trio takes ownership of each song, bends it to their will, instead of modulating themselves to the conventions of a particular song-style.

The effect is a well-paced project, kicked off with the meditative “Eyes of Heaven,” a mellow number with pleasant little gems of phrasing, a duo here, a pleasing set of bgvs there, a well-placed rest. The countrified “Hands of Grace” picks things up, a good example of the kind of tune that ought to work magically on stage (I regret the Booths didn’t do more from the new project at the gig I caught of theirs). “Father” is a praise-and-worshipy thing that I could have done without (yes, yes they can harmonize quite sweetly … and? …). But it does balance out the faster-paced tunes and gives the group a nice counterweight to more traditional songs like “Yesterday Battles,” a country/sg hybrid with a dash of R&B in the rhythmic arrangement.

Just as I find some of their antics on stage a bit over the top, there are some aspects of the recording that work less well than others: Some of the tunes strike me as a touch predictable: “Livin’ for the Moment” feels cut from the same cloth as the Hoppers’ “I’m Gonna Move.” And “It was the Blood,” while dazzling and well executed, sounds like the obligatory “we can do contemporary stuff” song. But the Booths bring to their music a distinctiveness in the studio not unlike the inimitable presence they create on stage.

The heart of the project, of course, is “He Saw it All,” a song that has been gotten more hype than I can recall in a long time. The hubbub has, perhaps obviously, to do with the ironic bent to the lyrics of the song: of the blind seeing it all, of a mute telling you about it all, of a deaf girl hearing it about it all, of a cripple man running to talk to others about it all. You get the idea. In the words of group member Jim Brady, “I thought the lyric was a very intriguing way of bringing this story to life. Each line in the chorus sets up the next line, leading to a great pay-off line.” Here’s what he means:

I was trying to catch the crippled man
Did he run past this way?
He was rushing home to tell everyone
What Jesus did today
And the mute man was telling myself and the deaf girl
He’s leaving to answer God’s call
It’s hard to believe but if you don’t trust me
Ask the blind man, he saw it all
Ask the blind man, he saw it all

This is all well and good … except, am I the only person who thinks the conceit here, and even some of the lyrics, sound remarkably similar to Greater Vision’s “Just Ask”? Both songs are built around the idea of verifying the work of Christ and his redeeming power, not by taking the word of singers, but with the testimony of those people whose bodies were most visibly healed by the savior, the people who the singers are describing. Thus the soloist in the first verse of “Just Ask” tells us “don’t trust my opinion alone / You may ask the host of others” who’ve been touched (among them, the lame and the dumb). Similarly “He Saw it All” concedes that “it’s hard to believe but if you don’t trust me / Ask the blind mind he saw it all.” Even that “payoff line” to “He Saw it All” is strikingly reminiscent of “Just Ask”:

“He Saw it All”: The blind man saw it all
“Just Ask”: The dumb tell it all

My point here is not to mount a plagiarism case against the writer of “He Saw it All.” There are only so many ideas out there to go around, and it’s inevitable that similar concepts will resurface with some regularity. But given how recently “Just Ask” was sg’s Song of the Year, I do confess to some amount of curiosity that so many people (most prominently Danny Jones, Chris Unthank, and of course the Booths themselves) are professing such wild-eyed amazement at the “unique” way the lyrical hook relies on the irony of disability. People will, I think, respond to this song, but for whatever reason (mainly the way the Booths sing it), it won’t be because it’s so stunningly original.

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