Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Climb Aboard and Testify: Robert Randolph and The Family Band's We Walk This Road

Lately I’ve been conscious of record producers such as Joe Henry and T-Bone Burnett. Like Phil Spector and Daniel Lanois, they create a distinctive sound that can really bring out the best in a musician. In the past year Joe Henry has brought out the roots of Allen Toussaint for last year’s best Jazz album, Bright Mississippi. Burnett won an Academy Award for his work on "The Weary Kind” from the film, Crazy Heart. He’s also produced some excellent records for Sam Phillips and his efforts on the sublime Raising Sand with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss were remarkable for bringing two different artists together under one aural roof.

Once again Burnett leaves his mark on one of the most energizing groups to come out of the United States, Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Known mostly as a contemporary Gospel group, this group features a unique blend of blues-based funk and traditional gospel music that's fused to perfection. Unlike a lot of gospel groups featuring a strong Hammond B-3, this band has the sharp-edge of a slide guitar driving the musical bus. All you have to do is climb aboard and testify.

The album opens with the first of a number of “Segues” designed to musically link the past with the present. It’s an early gospel recording by Mitchell’s Christian Singers called “Travelin’ Shoes” and it sets up the whole record as journey of hope and spiritual inspiration. It is possible to deliver a positive message without preaching and that’s the intention of the group and this record. Bob Dylan’s “Shot of Love” kicks the devil where he stands while the cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want to be a Soldier” remains edgy and steadfast as if it's coming from the ghetto.

Two years in the making, We Walk This Road offers an inspiring message with a contemporary beat and a thoughtful blend of musical styles that you can feel from the ground up.

-- John Corcelli is a musician, actor, broadcaster and theatre director.

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