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CD review: Robert Randolph heads down 'Road' not taken previously

Robert Randolph & the Family Band

We Walk This Road

Posted 11:37am on Wednesday, Jul. 07, 2010

Since grabbing the national spotlight about a decade ago, pedal-steel guitarist Robert Randolph has done a lot of his growing in public.

A prodigy in all the ways that immediately counted, he was a late bloomer on the subject of secular music, owing to his formative years in the House of God Church. The same upbringing that ensconced him in the sacred steel gospel tradition, as it turned out, also blocked a lot of outside influences.

We Walk This Road is the corrective. Randolph's third album with the Family Band, it was produced by T Bone Burnett, a wizard of humid atmosphere and old-fangled inspiration.

But the crucial part of Burnett's involvement here had to do with excavation. With the blessing of Randolph, he brought a lot of archival material to the table: old blues and spirituals, the stuff of folk anthologies and public domain. Some of these tracks -- discoveries for Randolph, good-luck charms for Burnett -- ended up inspiring new songs, which appear on the album alongside snippets of source material.

The Family Band, which features Randolph's cousin Danyel Morgan on bass and vocals, seems likely to make hay with these new-old songs live. The same should be true of the covers on Road, covers of songs by artists including Bob Dylan (Shot of Love), John Lennon (I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier Mama) and Prince (Walk Don't Walk). The soulful urgency of those songs fits Randolph and crew, all doctrine aside.

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