Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Back in 2004, the Grammy Awards had a tribute to funk that featured Samuel L. Jackson playing a preacher and performances by Earth, Wind and Fire, Outkast, and George Clinton, but the man who stole the show, and my breath away, was Robert Randolph. I had never heard of him before that night, but he tore the roof off the mother with his blistering display on pedal steel guitar. Playing like a man possessed, he danced at a frenetic pace on the border between chaos and order, creating beautiful music where most would have crashed. It was a surprise that his guitar wasn’t a pile of rubble and ashes by the end.
Randolph & The Family Band have been touring in support of Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and The Black Crowes. Some of their friends from the road join The Family on their latest outing, Colorblind, a good mix of uplifting, gospel-tinged rockers.
“Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That,” an update in sentiment of Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me,” is an infectious song praising all genres of music and those who listen to them. “Whether it’s Rock and Roll or old Soul (It Don’t Matter)/ Disco, Calypso (It Don’t Matter)/ Suit and Tie or Tie-Dye (It Don’t Matter)/ Snakeskins or Timberlands (It Don’t Matter)/ Tight Fade or Long Braid (It Don’t Matter)/ Break Dance, Slam Dance (It Don’t Matter).” Band members clapping and stomping lead the rhythm section, giving the song a nice gospel feel. The keyboards play a sweet riff on the bridge. It’s infectious; the beat reaches in and grabs you. It can’t be too loud and can’t be listened to one time. You will instinctively reach for the repeat button. This is the best “get up and dance” song of the year.
“Deliver Me” hits you with a big wall of sound. Randolph’s guitar opens with an odd jangle and a little funk from the bass, reminiscent to The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The background vocals sound like a church choir, and help inspire the guitar to soar higher and higher at the close.
“Angels,” co-written by Dave Matthews, shows the band play smooth and sultry. It is one of the album’s two love songs where some of the lyrics are vague enough that the relationship is just as likely between two lovers as it is between the narrator and God. “I was lonely/ I was a mess/ I was down and out/ and you then lifted me up.” “Stronger” featuring singer Leela James is the other. It deals with the strength your partner fills you with. “Sometimes it ain’t easy/ sometimes life can be so hard/ but I can rise above it / with you I can be stronger.” The guitar and the band sing loud and proud.
The Family and Clapton cover the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus Is Just Alright”. The latter plays and sings on the first verse. If you listen closely during the guitar solos, you can hear the mantle being handed over.
The songs continue to spread positive messages. “Thrill of It” explains the joy of life comes from following your dream. “I’m on this ride for the thrill of it/ living the dream that’s what life’s all about/ and working it out.” “Blessed,” with background vocals that bring to mind Bob Marley’s The I-Threes, informs those unaware that if you are able to look for God’s blessing, you already have it. “Love Is the Only Way” is straightforward and clear. It features Dave Matthews, who co-wrote the song with producer Mark Batson, and his band mates Leroi Moore and Rawshan Ross, but sounds more like their song than Randolph’s.
Randolph and the band get back to what they do best on the last two songs. The cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thankful ‘N Thoughtful” instrumental conveys similar ideas about the thrills and blessings of life just through being lucky enough to hear it. The soul and funk get cranked up another notch on “Homecoming” with Randolph ripping it up on the close, wisely leaving the listener wanting more.
While I enjoyed Colorblind, its sound has too much pop and polish and the messages were too repetitive. The album comes across like it’s trying to reach for a wider audience, playing songs with more structure instead of the loose jams. Personally, I prefer Randolph unleashed and wild, seemingly out of control. I hope this is a quick detour and he returns to the path less traveled. New fans should be turned onto the band’s sound, but I can’t say the same for fans gained in a live setting.