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Published: 2013/02/08
by Brian Robbins

The Slide Brothers
Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers

Concord Records

The opening seconds of Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers are awash in joyful noise: Marty Sammon’s gentle organ is the first thing you hear; next comes Chuck Campbell, working his multi-levered and -pedaled steel guitar to bounce one stinging note off the other; his brother Darick’s lap steel joins in, all icy-hot sizzling tone; their nephew Carlton Campbell splashes glistening cymbals over the whole thing – letting it build to a peak, then gently settle. Carlton kicks the drum kit into gear and – BA-WOOMP – we’re propelled into a very, very funky place as Orlando Wright’s walloping bass and the chikka-chikka rhythms of Darick and Chuck’s brother Phil’s six-string arrive on the scene to lay it down with the rest of the band.

“Oh, tell me ‘bout the car I saw, parked outside your door,” sings Calvin Cooke, sounding like a man who’s needing some answers from his baby. That’s right: these cats are doing the deed to “Don’t Keep Me Wondering” – The Slide Brothers take on The Allman Brothers. The Campbells’ steel guitars bob and weave with Cooke’s vocal, letting it all hang out like sweat-soaked Raelettes, before taking the lead themselves for the tune’s final two minutes. Tension and release? These guys are masters, establishing themes and turning them into mini-documentaries of tone and groove that tell complete stories in the matter of just a few bars. By the end of “Don’t Keep Me Wondering”, the core vibe of The Slide Brothers is well-established: you’ve forgotten that these are guitars; they’re simply beautiful, one-of-a-kind voices.

For those of you wondering about Mr. Randolph, whose name appears in the album’s title, don’t worry – he’s here as part of this big ol’ round robin of talent. So’s Aubrey Ghent, another all-star from the same Sacred Steel world that the Campbells grew up in. (So is Calvin Cooke, who also does some mighty fine picking, along with a number of lead vocals.) Other players include Marcus Randolph (drums) and Danyel Morgan (bass) from Robert Randolph’s Family Band; jam master-of-all-trades Jason Crosby on keys; blues queen Shemekia Copeland, who leads the rave-up “Praise You”; and a once-in-a-lifetime pairing of bassist Billy Cox (from Jimi Hendrix’ Band Of Gypsys) and former Stevie Ray Vaughan drummer Chris Layton on a monster version of “The Sky Is Crying”. (Robert Randolph and Chuck Campbell swap steel licks on this one while Cooke sings the blues.)

Speaking of blues, there’s plenty here – Orlando Wright’s bass is mixed into the forefront of “It Hurts Me Too” while Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders split vox duties on a driving “Motherless Children” that cranks Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard arrangement up another couple of notches. “Sunday School Blues” is cool and funky; “Catch That Train” finds Ghent and Cooke pulling off some slick call-and-response with both their voices and steel guitars; Cooke explores the jamming possibilities to be found in the one-chord trance blues of “Help Me Make It Through”; and the version of “My Sweet Lord” offered here may be one of the sweetest ever recorded – a great tribute to George Harrison.

Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers is a great testament to the depth of sound that can be produced by steel guitars – both lap and pedal. Steelers Chuck and Darick Campbell, Aubrey Ghent, Calvin Cooke, Robert Randolph – and their great supporting cast – do it all: from Sunday morning-style glory to outer space funk.

Hallelujah for The Slide Brothers.

*****

Brian Robbins sits in the front pew over at www.brian-robbins.com

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