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Bobby McFerrin Brings It Back Home with "Spirityouall"

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Bobby McFerrin
For decades, Bobby McFerrin has broken all the rules. The 10-time Grammy winner waged a quiet revolution, blurring the distinction between pop music and high art, goofing around barefoot in the world's finest concert halls, exploring uncharted vocal territory, inspiring a whole new generation of a cappella singers and the beatbox movement. Now he surprises us by bringing it all back home with his new album, spirityouall, from Sony Masterworks.

On spirityouall, Bobby McFerrin invites us to sit on the stoop awhile and listen as he throws some unexpected new ingredients into the melting pot and reinvents Americana. He embraces it all— bluegrass and the baroque, heartfelt lyrics and wordless melodies, joy and sorrow—across genres, across boundaries, across generations. He invites us back to the great folk tradition of lifting our voices to sing together through life’s trials and triumphs.

spirityouall features seven classic spirituals, an unexpected cover (Bob Dylan's “I Shall Be Released”), and five original tunes ranging from a celebratory hoedown (“Rest”) to a polemic anthem (“Woe”), to a down and dirty blues setting of Psalm 25:15. The stellar band includes Esperanza Spalding, who sings with Bobby on three tracks, Larry Grenadier on bass, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, drummers Ali Jackson and Charley Drayton, and accordionist/keyboard wizard/arranger/musical director Gil Goldstein. spirityouall was recorded at Avatar Recording and Shelter Island Sound, both in New York City.

The bluesy, feel-good recording is an unexpected move from the music-industry rebel who singlehandedly redefined the role of the human voice with his a cappella hit “Don't Worry, Be Happy,” his collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea and The Vienna Philharmonic, his improvising choir Voicestra, and his legendary solo vocal performances. spirtyouall continues Bobby's lifelong quest to integrate all the influences of the musical universe. But as in so many great American tales, sometimes it turns out that everything one is searching for is in one’s own backyard

spirityouall honors the legacy of Bobby's father, the opera singer Robert McFerrin, Sr., the first African-American to sign a contract with The Metropolitan Opera Company and a renowned interpreter of the American Negro spiritual. It was the elder McFerrin's 1957 recording, “Deep River” and Other Classic Negro Spirituals, that inspired Bobby to record his own set of devotional songs. He sat on the idea for some 20 years before deciding that the time was right. “I had the idea of taking some of my father’s pieces and reinterpreting them. In the meantime, I had also been writing some pieces that had a spiritual bent, and so the album is a combination of originals, traditional spirituals and things I heard my father sing.” Bobby grew up absorbing and singing these songs.

Three of the traditional numbers featured on spirityouall — the opening track “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Fix Me Jesus” — also appeared on Bobby’s father’s album, but any similarities end there. Bobby McFerrin’s wholly improvisational approach to vocalizing is markedly different than his dad’s more formal operatic style, and the usage of rhythm instruments on spirityouall — the title a clever play on the word spiritual — as well as acoustic and pedal steel guitars, accordions, violin, mandolin and electronic keyboards, places Gil Goldstein’s elegant, rousing arrangements and McFerrin’s uplifting vocals more in line with contemporary Americana than conventional gospel. What attracted McFerrin to delivering his own interpretations of these songs, and to write several new ones, was simply his lifelong belief in what they say. The spirituals are about liberation and courage, the human condition, the pioneering spirit, the search for strength in the face of adversity, and the journey toward a better place

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.

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