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In the House of the Lord…and McFerrin

By the looks of things, it might seem like Bobby McFerrin’s royalties for the 1988 single “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” have finally run out: The golden-throated vocalist is currently living in a church rectory in Philadelphia.

The truth is, McFerrin has neither joined rank with the homeless who seek refuge from the bone-chilling Philadelphia winter nights in a church shelter, nor has he run out of dough. He’s renovating a house nearby, and he needed a place to stay while the contractors did their magic.

And soon McFerrin shouldn’t be home too much anyway: On March 12 his latest CD, Beyond Words (Blue Note), will hit the stores, and he’ll almost certainly be touring jazz festivals throughout the spring and summer to support it.

“Bobby McFerrin is simply beyond category,” says Capitol Jazz prez Bruce Lundvall. Beyond Words has it all, too, from bebop to smooth jazz to world music. There’s straightahead skat—McFerrin’s voice trades fours with the piano on “Fertile Field”—and a spot where you’ll be waiting for a banjo and Future Man to kick in at any moment on the Flecktoneish tidbit “Chanson.” The album also features such greats as Chick Corea, Omar Hakim and Richard Bona—and that’s just on one song. McFerrin also collaborates with his son Taylor on “Taylor Made,” a drum and bass driven tune.

But, what’s God got to do, got to do with it? Maybe living in a church inspired McFerrin on Beyond Words. From the first track, “Invocation,” to “A Silken Road,” through the last piece, “Monks/The Shephard,” the album seems to reflect a spiritual journey. McFerrin’s voice, singing wordless sounds (speaking in tongues?), and the diverse styles of music, at times deep and full of meaning, at others whimsical and lighthearted, echo the full range of human spirit-and higher.

Originally Published