Lem and Ironwood have been trekking together through the countryside for over a year, playing wherever they can find a meal and some money. While Ironwood works the piano with zeal and style, Lem strings away at his guitar, belting out songs much to the applause and hurrah of the audience. But it’s the early twentieth century and the South, where two wandering black men can never quite find a place to call home. But a stop in the town of Hope brings with it the double-edged sword of success and disaster.
After discovering the local jazz house, Lem and Ironwood proceed to woo their way into the good graces of Shug, the keeper. Soon enough, they’re raising up fervor and excitement among the crowd, and all are the better for it. Shortly after the performance, the two are addressed by a scout offering them to come make a record in Memphis in a week. Hope indeed has answered their prayers, But success no sooner arrives than it is stolen away. Deciding it is a time for celebration, Ironwood convinces Lem to come back to the home of a local girl for some late evening entertainment. Plans go awry from there, and before Lem knows it, he’s on the run after witnessing three successive deaths—none of which he was responsible for.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Beasley has awoken to find three (and soon four) dead bodies to account for, with the District Attorney raving mad that one of the deaths was that of a white man. Knowing he needs to act quickly, Beasely tries to assemble the facts and determine the best course of action, but resentment and anger quickly rising among the local white folk. The crimes are crying out for mob justice, but Beasely must find a way to prevent it, else the wrong man will be lynched. The chase begins as different factions set out to find Lem and figure out his involvement while Lem risks life and limb to make it Memphis to record the album.
Vollmar provides an elegant, powerful story that fits perfectly well with the context of the setting. He builds up the story and gains steam but never seems to rush the tale. His characters are genuine with legitimate motivations, actions, and dialogue. By contrast, Callejo’s art renders the story in beautiful wood-cut style and grayscale coloring. The dark mood and interior of the art blend effortlessly with the story and make for an absolutely beautiful and heartfelt book that will move readers even after the second reading.
Stories dealing with race and identity can be hard to do. Often, they decline into cliché or are incapable of generating the depth and genuine complexity such matters entail. But Vollmar and Callejo’s work meets this challenge and does it justice, avoiding caricature for both white and black characters while also providing a poetic tale of a man, his love for music, and his internal struggle with faith.