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Colorblind – Robert Randolph and the Family Band

Warner Brothers 4493-2

It’s with deep sadness that I’m not spending the next 300 words or so raving about Colorblind, the new album by Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Oh, there are moments that deserve much praise, similar to the ones here where Randolph reverts to his sacred steel musical upbringing and makes several shouts out to the Almighty One (his gift is that these proclamations become universal, they feel like non-denominational expressions of pure joy). However, what is distinctly different here, and overall problematic, is that the production bears more muscle than its predecessor, Unclassified. Along with this, loads of compression muddies up the mix. Oddly, Randolph’s pedal steel and guitar playing drops down from its normal prominence.

Colorblind starts off with a strong one-two punch of “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That,” a clever everyone’s-included-at-this-musical-party track, followed by “Deliver Me,” one of several spiritually-related numbers that should even inspire non-believers. That’s always been the power and joy of Randolph and his cohorts in the Family Band. We’re witnesses to more than rock and funk and soul and gospel coexisting in some idyllic sonic language. We join with the members in the exuberance that’s created by the material that’s played. “Thrill Of It” hooks up to a hard funk charge yet it’s constructed in such a way that only racial barriers should keep it off the radio. “Diane” works, thanks to a groove that probably finds extra power in a live setting, but like so much of Colorblind the overbearing mix dilutes its potency.

I’ve got to admit that my instinctual Warning Flag came up the moment I read credits for Executive Producer and A&R on the CD’s back cover, right below the track listing. Its placement gives the impression that a lot of outside voices were talking about what was needed to take Randolph & the Family Band to the “next level.” This is despite the fact that the band clearly showed that it knew what it was doing as songwriters, players and producer on their studio debut, Unclassified. Add Randolph co-writing with others and several high profile guests — Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Leroi Moore and Leela James — and it sure seems as if Colorblind was originally constructed in a record company boardroom. In fact it doesn’t even sound as if Clapton’s in the same room jamming on “Jesus Is Just Alright.” What should have been a lengthy, mind-blowing duel results in more chaos than anthem. Everyone involved may have the best intentions, but that road that’s filled with those kinds of thoughts can, occasionally, end up bumpier than expected. Colorblind is one of them.

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