Can You Feel It? – Campbell Brothers
A few years back, Ropeadope and producer John Medeski brought attention to Robert Randolph and Sacred Steel music. Now, the label and producer return to the same genre, but their new artist choice is firmly out of the gospel well. Can You Feel It? feels like a peek behind the walls at the kind of churches that don’t pick classical music or watered-down pop as their method of reaching for the spirit; instead, fervent grooves, keening guitars and a few sassy vocals carry the show.
The three Campbell Brothers make for a contrasting set of guitar talents: Darick's stinging lap steel counters Chuck's sweet pedal steel, while Phil gets in a couple of jazz-flavored digressions on the regular guitar. Phil's son Carlton anchors the rhythm section on drums, while Medeski is only subtly in evidence, swelling in the background on organ and taking only brief solos. It's a notable contrast to listen to this after encountering Jon Hassell's critique of "no-to-life Fundamentalism" last month; some of the Campbell Brothers' target audience and perhaps even the musicians might advocate some no-to-life ideas, but Can You Feel It?‘s blues and gospel celebrates with a simple infectiousness that Hassell’s electronic world-jazz seldom offers, and the inclusion of the mildly secular "A Change Is Gonna Come" points towards liberal ideas.
Can You Feel It? connects at the beginning, but, like many discs in this genre, the impact wanes as the lack of variety pushes affairs from exciting to merely pleasant. Also, the recording gets in the way a bit at times, with odd gating and distortion that leaves me uncertain whether Medeski was trying to say something or just could have used a bigger budget.
Overall, though, Can You Feel It? makes the case for Sacred Steel. Any disc that offers a fresh look at "Amazing Grace," spiced with some jazzy chords, is worth something. And in a time when religion and art often find themselves at war, it’s good to get a reminder of how thoroughly the spiritual and the expressive can work together.