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Book Review

The Gospel According to the Blues by Gary W. Burnett


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The Gospel According to the Blues
Gary W. Burnett
161 Pages
ISBN: #978-1620327258
Cascade Books

Dr. Gary Burnett wears a lot of hats. He teaches courses in New Testament Greek, Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Pauline Epistles and Theology, and Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels at Union Theological College in Belfast. He is also a Chartered IT Professional and a Fellow of the British Computer Society, and runs a business consulting business. Oh, and did I mention Burnett is also crazy for the blues?

Burnett's love of the blues and his deep reading of the Christian Tradition come together in his book The Gospel According to the Blues. Much palaver has been made regarding the blues being the Devil's music. This is a Romantic concoction more than likely established as a means to advertise the live performance or recordings of the artists providing the music. Someone, somewhere dreamed up that Robert Johnson went to the crossroads, making a Faustian bargain with "Scratch" so he could play guitar better. It makes for a nice story, but offers little in the way of higher discussion of the art.

Burnett considers the blues backwards 2000 years through a prism of Christian Practice. His focus is less the place of Christianity within the perspective of the blues as the blues as a metaphor of dislocation, loss, forgiveness, and salvation. The social and cultural circumstances that gave rise to the rich land in the Mississippi Delta has been played out many times. It is an archetype: a persecuted minority endures the injustice of a class-ridden society, ultimately ending as refugees and exiles in and out of their own lands. The parallel with the Old Testament and mid-Twentieth Century Jews cannot be overstated. The early Christians in Rome are another example. The Psalms have as their progeny the blues of the Delta region. These are songs expressing the range of emotions experienced not only because life is hard, but because it is made harder by others.

Burnett injects the concepts of justice and endurance into the comparative discussion making a convincing argument for the temporal relationship between The Beatitudes and the whole corpus of Delta blues. Burnett's is a keen cultural analysis occurring at a high emotional and intellectual level. This book is for anyone interested in the blues as a part of the civilization that grew out of Christianity. The pertinence is plain regardless of what religious or anti-religious winds happen to be blowing. History is history, let us learn from it.

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