The Blind Boys of Alabama, known in various formations since the late 1930s for their harmony-rich gospel music, are courting a new audience: indie-rock millennials.
On Thursday the group announced details of its upcoming collaboration with Justin Vernon of the hipster-beloved Bon Iver, who broke out in 2008 with "For Emma, Forever Ago," a set of cloistered folk songs he said he'd written and recorded while camped out by himself in a cabin in the Wisconsin woods. Last year Bon Iver won the Grammy Award for best new artist.
Now Vernon has produced the Blind Boys' "I'll Find a Way," for which the group "decamped to the wintry wild of rural Wisconsin," according to a statement, to record at Vernon's April Base studio. (It's a different spot than the cabin, but evidently just as rustic.)
Due out Oct. 1 on Sony Masterworks, the disc is to feature guest spots by several other indie faves, including Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, Sam Amidon and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. There's also a version of Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand" performed as a duet between Vernon and the Blind Boys' Jimmy Carter.
"I'll Find a Way" isn't the first time the gospel group has recruited a younger producer. It worked with Jamey Johnson, the tough-talking country singer, for 2011's "Take the High Road" and shared co-billing with Ben Harper on "There Will Be a Light" in 2004.
And the Blind Boys album is just one of Vernon's current side projects. At the Coachella festival in April he performed with his blues-rock combo the Shouting Matches, and in September he's to release a new album with Volcano Choir, the atmospheric art-rock outfit he shares with members of Wisconsin's Collections of Colonies of Bees.
Listen to "Byegone," from that group's upcoming "Repave," below.