Most remember Bobby McFerrin for the 1988 ubiquitous hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” which is fine, because that song (and entire album) resonates with McFerrin‘s belief that music should calm, heal, soothe, and redeem. All of his recorded work before and after that collosal hit fits right in line with that philosophy. I’ve been listening to McFerrin since my College days, where I purchased his self-titled debut recording “Bobby McFerrin” released in 1982, and I have every CD since.
On spirityouall, McFerrin focuses on black spirituals, a genre he sees as at the epicenter of American music, full of a kind of musical strength that puts joy, persistence, redemption, and a belief in personal and collective freedom up against the horrors, pressures, marginalization, and pure evil the world can generate in our lives.
The album is also a tribute to his father, Robert McFerrin, whose 1957 album Deep River brought black spirituals into the world of the concert hall and high art, and like that groundbreaking release, this album opens with the same song, an easy rolling “Everytime.”
In all, there are seven traditional spirituals here, including “Joshua” (full of McFerrin‘s jazzy scat singing), a joyous and syncopated “Whole World,” and the pulsing, nuanced, and flowing “Wade,” alongside an intimate cover of Bob Dylan‘s “I Shall Be Released” (I doubt Bob would recognize the song) and five McFerrin originals, and the whole sequence adds up to the audio version of a warm comforter blanket. My favorite is “Glory”; it brings back memories of jamming with musicians in my more adventurous college days.
By the time the closing track, “Rest/Yes, Indeed,” a mixed-meter spiritual hoedown, rolls in, the world seems not only bearable but better in all dimensions. Music can soothe the savage soul, goes the old adage. McFerrin believes it does even more than that, providing a bridge and a gateway to joy and redemption in a world that all too often seems to want to sweep all of our souls over a cliff.
From his website: spirityouall is a deeply personal statement for Bobby McFerrin. “I couldn’t do anything without faith,” he says. “I couldn’t open up my eyes, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t sing. What I want everyone to experience at the end of my concerts is . . . .this sense of rejoicing. I don’t want the audience to be blown away by what I do, I want them to have this sense of real joy, from the depths of their being. Then you open up a place where grace can come in.” Lift your voice, open your heart, and sing along.