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Published: 2001/12/09
by Andy Tennille

Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Visulite Theater, Charlotte, NC- 12/4

There are very few musicians that can completely captivate an audience.

I once saw an interview with Paul McCartney in which the interviewer asked about the first time McCartney saw Jimi Hendrix play. Sir Paul got this awe-struck look on his face and said something like, “I was in complete shock. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.” While it’s still entirely too early to compare pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph to a rock legend like Hendrix, both musicians share a common trait the ability to make people’s jaw drop. I saw people picking theirs off the floor at Charlotte’s Visulite Theater on Tuesday.

Randolph was in town making his North Carolina debut with his Family Band, which consists of cousins Marcus Randolph on drums, Danyell Morgan on bass and John Ginty on the Hammond B3 Organ. The band was opening for the North Mississippi All-Stars (Randolph’s bandmates, along with John Medeski, in the gospel supergroup, The Word).

Part of Randolph’s allure seems to be due in part to the audience’s fascination with his unique sound this is not the Nashville pedal steel that emanates in the background of those twangy country songs or even the unorthodox style of Jerry Garcia in the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Randolph’s playing is a mix of soulful gospel tones and intense fiery licks a testament to the musical education he got growing up playing the sacred steel on Sunday mornings in Orange, NJ’s House of God church while simultaneously wearing out a Stevie Ray Vaughn tape given to him in 1998.

But Randolph’s talents would be nothing without the close musical relationship he’s fostered with the Family Band. Marcus Randolph is tight he’s a monster behind the drums and doesn’t miss many beats. Morgan is a musical chameleon his bass-playing vibe is urban and funky, but his falsetto-like voice makes women cry. I actually saw one girl burst into tears at the first sound of Morgan’s voice Tuesday night it was like the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 65. Powerful stuff, man. Ginty is the unsung hero of the Family Band his funky organ playing is the perfect foil for Randolph’s searing solos.

But the best thing about Randolph and the Family Band is the incredible energy they exude while onstage. One minute, Randolph is up leading the bouncing crowd in “The March” and the next second he’s jumping off amplifiers and throwing towels at Morgan or Ginty. It’s fun to watch musicians that are having a good time you couldn’t wipe the grin off Randolph’s face if you tried. It’s refreshing to see from someone who is so immensely talented but also joyfully innocent about their gift.

I strongly recommend buying a ticket when they come to the local music dive nearest you. After all, you may be missing out on the next Hendrix.

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