"Lord I work to serve you and I hope I've served you well/ I've lived a life to join you, now only time will tell"
—from "Take My Hand"

Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama first recorded together in 2002, when the former had a guest appearance on the latter's Higher Ground, which adapted modern spiritual standards to the bluesy/old time gospel motif.

Harper went on to record his own Diamonds on the Inside, which included several faith references throughout an ambitious mix of bluesy rock, funk and reggae. While Harper has never declared Christian faith (at least on an album), the Blind Boys have had Christian music roots and have been singing songs of faith for some 60 years.

Now that the two are together again, for There Will Be a Light, it seems that Harper has at least taken even more of a step toward—if not outright into—faith, based on the seven songs he's either written or co–written for the album. But exactly how Harper might define that "faith" isn't very clear.

Harper told The Age, a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, that he looks for "the church in art. I don't look to define my faith. Either you have it, or don't. If you want to put a name and a face on it, and that empowers you, fine. But for me, God is bigger than any box religion can put it in. But it's a journey which is closing itself day by day."

Not exactly words you'd hear from an evangelical pulpit, but at least Harper seems to be starting a "journey," as he calls it. And there couldn't be many better places to start it than with some old guys who've been following Jesus for a long, long time.

One of the Blind Boys, founding member Clarence Fountain, told Paste magazine that Harper's "got soul. We're sure of that. But I think he has something a little better than soul, and that's wisdom and knowledge and knowing about the Lord." Again, not to get caught up in semantics, but one wonders if Fountain chose those words deliberately, describing Harper as "knowing about the Lord" rather than the more definitive "knowing the Lord."

At any rate, Harper told Paste that since working with the Blind Boys, "I've woken up every day with a bigger smile than ever before. I wake up happier—this record has made my life so much better."

And the record does the same for listeners, bringing a lift and a smile. Light combines Harper's distinct vocal stylings with the Blind Boys' weathered harmonies and an old–fashioned soulful rock band. In the past, Harper may have used somewhat vague mentions of a Higher Power, but here he takes part in 11 out–in–the–open tracks packed with a meaty message—like the lines excerpted above from the vibrant opener "Take My Hand," penned by Harper and seeming to indicate a desire to serve the Lord and embrace salvation.

The yearning for eternal life resurfaces on the title track, which speaks of escaping worldly troubles in hopes of everlasting peace; when met with the signature blues sound of the Blind Boys and equally authentic execution by Harper, it comes across as both rousing and sincere. And then there's "Well, Well, Well," co–written by Bob Dylan, which centers around dusty, grimy guitars to share a story of living a righteous life. And in the Harper–penned "Wicked Man," he addresses humanity's disposition toward evil, though his bottom–line prayer is to walk the straight and narrow path: "I will not fear the darkest night/For I know upon the other side is light."

The subsequent "Picture of Jesus," with its hearty harmonies and a delightfully retro tint, relays a touching story of reliance, trust and admiration of the Lord: "I've got a picture of Jesus/In His arms my prayers rest/I've got a picture of Jesus/ And with Him we shall be forever blessed." Everyone further demonstrates their vocal chops on an a capella rendition of "Mother Pray," a simple petition for soothing and strength with lines like "When she used to sing to the eternal king/It was the sound I loved to hear."

On a strictly sonic note, the record is a good mix of nostalgic sounds and contemporary shades. It's even more satisfying from an edification perspective, setting a mood for prayer and rejoicing while taking simple, universal concepts of daily living and applying them to a higher purpose. Fans have long known the Blind Boys to be grounded in their walks, and it would now seem that Harper is at least considering coming along for the journey of faith—or perhaps he's already begun the ride.

Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here.