This interview with Robert Randolph was first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 1 September 2019. Robert discusses the new album with Pete Feenstra (32:23)
Provogue Records [Release date: 23.08.2019]
Robert Randolph is a man on a mission. Since crossing over from his church background into the rock-blues arena, he’s been a breath of fresh air with his pedal steel tone colours.
His gospel infused energy and a willingness to jam and explore crossover musical genres helps forge his own contemporary roots-rock style, routed in soulful antecedents.
‘Brighter Days’ extends his accessibility on an album that unashamedly heads for the mainstream.
He’s a risk taker, a hip shaker, a deal breaker, a groove maker and he’s got the chops, the band, the songs, the natural versatility and spirit to make something new and interesting.
Randolph’s music is the result of what happens when you cross the integrity and musical excitement of his gospel background into the rock-blues world, except that this album is also drenched in soul, funk and blues and dig deeps for its grooves, uplifting hooks and scintillating playing.
It’s all there on the opening ‘Baptize Me’, which ostensibly leans on his musical past, but finds him firing off a volley of piercing riffs over a booming groove.
‘Second Hand Man’ is more of the same and could be Sly Stone, on a mean funky outing that opens with the hypnotic chorus, as his pedal steel subtly mirrors his vocal phrasing.
‘Have Mercy’ is a beautifully shaped timeless soulful piece on which his notes arc and sparkle, before gently coming to rest on a soulful duet with Danyel Morgan’s nuanced bass-led ending.
Randolph can go up, down and sideways, as befits a musician who has played with Buddy Guy, Santana and Clapton to name but a few.
He’s at his best on the stripped down and aptly titled ‘Simple Man, a beautiful ballad on which his subtle tone colours match his tremulous vocal phrasing on an aching soulful outing.
And if the album sometimes sounds just a little too mixed back, ‘Simple Man’ lets the song do all the work. It gently rises on the back of a chorus full of feel and presence.
The key to the whole project’s success is the way producer Dave Cobb places the emphasis on the quality of the song, the importance of the voices and the overall spiritual vibe.
Also, it’s significant that while his solo career has taken off, Randolph has kept faith with his Family Band. The result is intuitively felt music played by a road tested band that balances its natural jamming instincts within disciplined song writing.
Randolph is also a generous band leader giving his sister Lenesha Randolph the lead on ‘Cry Over Me’, while he’s in his element on the gospel tinged ‘I Need You’, a song with a nod back to his past and one that you could imagine Stevie Wonder tackling.
‘I’m Living Off The Love You Give’ is an impressive slice of contemporary soul which could easily be Tedeschi Trucks. It’s no coincidence that this album fits perfectly into the roots rock template that is currently holding sway in the Billboard blues chart. The thing that sets Randolph apart from his contemporaries though, is his evocative tone colours which on this track ventures into a Celtic feel.
Robert Randolph has enjoyed an interesting rise to fame, from the church to the rock blues via the obligatory Experience Hendrix tour. He’s settled on a soulful bent, punctuated by explosive playing, great songs and catchy hooks, as on the insistent riffing and harmonies of ‘Cut ‘Em Loose’, another Sly Stone influenced track full of arresting slide lines.
He rounds things off with a gospel and rock and roll coupling on ‘Don’t Fight It’ and the hard driving ‘Strange Train’, complete with a dirt sounding tone that fits in nicely with the choral vocals.
The emphasis on the latter track is on the whole ensemble from the bouncing rhythm section through to the call and response vocals. His busy slide playing comes to the fore on a drop-down which unexpectedly slips into a funky groove and stokes the fire all over again. It’s an exhilarating extended finish that perfectly mirrors the essence of a jam band.
They leave just enough space to let the song breathe, sparkle and capture the celebratory feel that lies of the heart of an enjoyable album, better still, it’s fired by so much natural energy and the sheer joy of playing great music. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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