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Stephen J Nichols - Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us About Suffering and Salvation

Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us About Suffering and Salvation by Stephen J Nichols

Cross Rhythms Rating: 9/10
Paperback
Tags: Paperback, Christianity And The Arts, Book, Music Related, Top Rated
Normal Dispatch Time: 1-5 days
An American professor brings theological insights from the output of Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and many others.

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9/10

Reviewed by Tony Cummings

Here's a book which I was thrilled to read and which is literally decades overdue. Having been an aficionado of the blues since the age of 16, I have long recognised the deep rooted spiritual content of many blues songs, particularly as presented by those recordings from the early blues artists. So many of those bizarre "the Devil's in the rhythm" diatribes against rock music would have been short circuited way back if we'd had available a theologically insightful book such as this. In a nutshell what Stephen, a research professor at Lancaster Bible College, has done here is make a convincing argument that the listener can only understand and fully engage with blues music by appreciating its undergirding in a Christian world view. Blues is "a theology in a minor key" which pinpoints "the harshness and frailties of life, the presence of sin and evil, the shortcomings and limitations of humanity" but one that also "sounds a note of hope as it leads us to the Man of Sorrows and the cross." Consisting mainly of short pen pictures of well known blues exponents (Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, BB King, Blind Willie Johnson, etc) interspersed with the professor drawing out the theological themes of some of the bluesmen's songs, Getting The Blues is both an excellent primer to those just starting to discover the rich vibrancy of blues music and a stimulant for those who know their Homesick James from their Elmore James and want to discover the blues' spiritual subtext. Despite being an academic, Nichols thankfully writes with none of the dry-as-dust plod of secular blues writers like Paul Oliver and his deft descriptive writing brings to life the colourful characters and the eerie, oppressive atmosphere of the deep South. However, the book is not without its flaws. The handful of Nichols poems that occasionally break up the pages aren't great and the introduction into the text of figures like Johnny Cash and Duke Ellington peripheral to the blues story unnecessary. Also, a study like this would have been more honest if Professor Nichols had at least alluded to the vast amount of semi-pornographic "blue blues" which have long clogged the repertoires of many blues performers. But considering the important ground succinctly covered in this 192 page study, such minor misgivings shouldn't deter any Christian music fan who is serious in thinking about how Biblical truth consistently comes through great art. And any book which has got me searching the internet for albums by Fred McDowell and JB Lenoir, whose music I haven't listened to since the 1960s has got to be recommended.

Genre: Music Related
Cross Rhythms Product Code: 54690
Product Format: Book
ISBN: 9781587432125
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 192
Publisher: Baker Book House USA
Cat. Code: 9781587432125
Release Date: 26 Sep 2008

An American professor brings theological insights from the output of Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and many others.

In Getting the Blues, Stephen Nichols shows how blues music offers powerful insight into the biblical narrative and the life of Jesus. Weaving Bible stories together with intriguing details of the lives of blues musicians, he leads readers in a vivid exploration of how blues music teaches about sin, suffering, alienation, and worship. Nichols unpacks the Psalms, portions of the prophets, and Paul’s writings in this unique way, revealing new facets of Scripture.

Getting the Blues will resonate with all readers interested in Christianity and culture. In the end they will emerge with a greater understanding of the value of “theology in a minor key” – a theology that embraces suffering as well as joy.














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