and Patricia Raybon
Mea Culpa: I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for the completely honest review which I am now about to give. There, I've confessed it. Whew! Boy, do I feel better having 'fessed up to THAT horrible secret.
It seems a bit odd to review this book in the usual way, because it really is a coffee table book, though not the kind that you put out to impress guests who outrank you at work, but never actually open. Owning this book without ever opening it would be quite a shame, really. Still, you don't so much read it as experience it. It consists of lyrics of African-American Spirituals, along with large works of calligraphic and photographic art, and reflective poetry. To be perfectly honest, I felt that the reflections were the weakest part of the book (and I think they generally are in these types of compilations), but still, the whole effort fits together fairly seamlessly.
My maternal grandparents moved north from the deep mountain valleys of Appalachia before my mother was born, so I grew up singing most of these songs in beautiful and complex family harmonies, and am accustomed to associating them with the crushing poverty of the mountains and the coal mines. However, this book placed the songs firmly back into their even more amazing original context in my mind, the hope in Christ that African-Americans preserved in the face of the unimaginable cruelty of slavery. This theme has been explored in some depth before, so this book does not really strike me as being original, but it is powerful, and quite beautiful.
The interesting choices of calligraphic styles made by Timothy Botts--everything from ancient Norse runes and Celtic symbols to proto-Semitic lettering--reminds the reader of the universal nature of the themes in this music. I think anyone who enjoys art books or folk music will appreciate this nice volume.