Spirityouall by Bobby McFerrin

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As a child, Bobby McFerrin heard his father, baritone Robert McFerrin, learn how to sing African-American spirituals from Hall Johnson, who had learned them from his grandmother, a former slave. The roots of this album run deep, with seven traditional spirituals. But the album also goes wide, with five of Bobby McFerrin’s own spirituals, all sung in a range of styles from the blues to bluegrass to jazz.

Some tracks express deep despair (the traditional “Fix Me Jesus”) and lament social injustice (“Woe,” based on Isaiah 10:1-4). Yet, with McFerrin’s bubbling vocals, the overall tone is of jubilation and deliverance (“Swing Low,” “Joshua”). In his own spirituals, McFerrin reveals his true reason for not worrying and being happy: “I know being near you is the best,/Love God and your neighbor, be at rest” (“Rest/Yes, Indeed”). Bassist Esperanza Spalding appears on some tracks, providing beautiful harmony. If you are ready to hear African-American spirituals sung in a fresh way, this recording will definitely delight. (Sony)

About the Author

Otto Selles teaches French at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and attends Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.