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)