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Published: 2001/10/13
by Jai Sanders

Robert Randolph & The Family Band, 12th & Porter, Nashville TN- 10/12

"Jump for Joy"

Considering the breadth of traditions that jambands pull from it was just a matter of time before gospel got in the mix. Sure, there are elements in some of the older bands (Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Allmans), even MMW throws out a gospel tune every once in a while but something has happened in the past few years to bring the Black gospel sound to the forefront. You've got Susan Tedeschi who uses gospel in the same way as Aretha and North Mississippi Allstars who come from that Southern tradition where the sacred and the secular are the Ying-Yang of life. But you also have Joan Osborne producing a Holmes Brothers album ("Speaking In Tongues" on Alligator Records) and a young guy named Robert Randolph from one of the most unique gospel traditions, using a pedal steel guitar as the primary voice in a church band, playing to rave reviews all across the country.

We all know that Nashville is the home of Country music and in Nashville the pedal steel holds a special place in our hearts but I don't know how many of us had any idea that a pedal steel could do the things Robert makes his do. You don't hear the whine of George Jones and Tammy Wynette you hear the power of a music driven by the soul of a man seemingly from another world. There are few words to describe how completely mind-boggling Robert's guitar playing is. He can play lightning fast, he can coax a surreal amount of sustain, he can make the guitar talk, he plays funky rhythms and then he uses a wah-wah pedal and an octave divider/envelope filter kinda thing. Sheesh! I used to think Speedy West was the most amazing pedal player ever… not anymore!

Then you have the Family Band, which includes two cousins, Marcus on drums & Danyell on bass, for the rhythm section and a friend, John, on organ player. They play with that near-telepathic tightness that relatives quite often exhibit; not to mention the intuitive nature of those who come from the Church, a situation that usually requires the musician to anticipate numerous random and unannounced changes and stops. Robert works this band hard but he also gives all of them the spotlight and shows his appreciation by goofing with them quite often during the show.

The music is obviously gospel-based but the other secular influences are extremely evident. They have a song called "March On" that has a strong Allman Brothers via North Mississippi Allstars groove, all the soars and swoops you identify with Dickey Betts' "Jessica" and "Elizabeth Reed" They also do an amazing Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." Everything is positive and inviting. What I enjoyed almost as much as Robert's playing was his stage presence. With most jambands you don't get a lot of a show. The band comes, it plays, it leaves. Robert wants the audience to become a part of the overall experience. He asks for and gets audience participation. Nashville is not known for enthusiastic crowds, especially at a sit-down venue but Robert had folks yelling and stomping and jumping for joy. He coaxed the audience into doing this by doing it himself. He was dancing and standing on his amps and "shaking his hips" (they do Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips"). He said they had a day off and he didn't care if he lost his voice from screaming. That's entertainment!

If Robert comes to your area it will do your ears and your soul good to go see him. In these especially troubled times we need all the inspiration we can get and if you open your ears and heart Robert & the Family Band will give you a boost like few others, and you don't have to sit in pews either.

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