July 10, 2010


At the Axis of Blues, Gospel and Rock: A talk with Robert Randolph and a look at his 'We Walk This Road' (JIM FUSILLI , 7/10/10, WSJ)

The cross-pollination of blues, gospel and rock inspired Mr. Randolph's band and some well-chosen guests, and the rousing result is in kinship with the kind of zealous music he made in church. The album's songs reflect the bond: "I Still Belong to Jesus" and "Salvation"; "Traveling Shoes" and "Dry Bones," sparked by traditional field songs; and "Shot of Love," the title track of Bob Dylan's 1981 Christian-themed album. "If I Had My Way" includes biblical references and is sung by Ben Harper. Leon Russell plays piano on "Salvation."

Because it exists at the axis of several types of American music, "We Walk This Road" keeps one foot in the secular world with songs by Prince and John Lennon, among others, all played in Mr. Randolph's ebullient style.

When Mr. Randolph gets going, he's gone: During his recent tour, his aggressive playing broke all four pedal-steel instruments he'd brought along. The audience at his performance late last month at the Bowery Ballroom here was unaware that he switched to a standard Fender Telecaster guitar because he'd damaged his only remaining pedal steel, which was then jury-rigged by a tech so he could finish the show.

The pedal-steel guitar is at the heart of Mr. Randolph's music. With its pedals and levers that change its pitch, it can sound like an organ—which is why its predecessor, the lap-steel guitar, was played in churches where the congregation couldn't afford a keyboard. It can, as you might imagine, sound like a slide guitar, and Mr. Randolph can make it sing a la Sonny Landreth or Warren Haynes. But his biggest influences are the men who performed during church services: early masters, such as Henry Nelson and Willie Eason, and the new generation, including Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell and Ted Beard.

Robert Randolph Performs Live In NPR's Studio 4A (NPR, 6/20/10)
Robert Randolph began playing his pedal steel guitar at House of God Church in Orange, N.J. But he and his Family Band quickly made a name for themselves with their amped-up blues-rock take on gospel. They sold out New York City venues soon after forming, and since 2001, they've released three studio albums. The latest, We Walk This Road, comes out Tuesday.

T-Bone Burnett, the award-winning musician and producer, helped the band develop its original pieces and put its own bluesy stamp on songs by legends such as Prince, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. In an interview with Weekend Edition Sunday's Liane Hansen, Randolph praises Burnett's expertise in music history — a crucial asset when reviving early standards on his record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 10, 2010 6:22 AM
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