He stood up from his beaten, carefully taped together wooden chair, behind the cherry red finished Jackson steel guitar, and said to us out in the crowd with a smile, "Am I sweatin too much? I apologize, truth is, I've had a fever all day, but I just had to come out and see all your smilin souls." The crowd of maybe sixty people roared, cheers and whistles came from all corners of the crowded room., thanking the man in the black and white checkered shirt, black vest and black tie. He sat back down, slipped his finger deftly back into the steel slider and proceeded to tear up a solo on the Jackson, despite having broken a string during the opening number. The steel guitar sang. Behind him, a skinny white guy with a crooked fedora, a five o'clock shadow, and a plaid shirt under a black blazer cranked out bar chords on a metallic grey Fender. To his left sat another guitarist, accompanying his solo with another set of scales and power chords on a blue Fender. Next to the standing guitarist, behind an impressive and shiny kit, sat the drummer, grinning from ear to ear, clapping his hands above his head. To the right stood his little sister, pink hair shaking with the maraca in her hand as she prepared to sing along, and next to her sat his cousin, cranking away on a pearly white Yamaha five-string bass. As his cousin and sister bagan to sing, he grinned, and threw his head back as the slider worked it's way down the fretboard of the Jackson. This was my introduction to Robert Randolph and the Family Band's latest album, We Walk This Road
Picture is linked to Amazon, where you can download the album (17 songs, 56 minutes) for $8.99
The album (produced by the famous T Bone Burnett) was released on Tuesday, and is focused on the road that rock and roll has taken since it's creation.
"My mind is expanded now. The record is finished and I still feel as if I’m not done. I’ve spent over $5,000 on iTunes in the past eighteen months just catching up. Before this record, I didn’t sift through music past the Seventies. I didn’t know about Blind Willie Johnson, or Chess Records."
He segues into the first track with an old clip of music featuring lyrics used in the title of the song, a technique he uses several times during the album.
"We recorded We Walk This Road over about two years... We went into the studio with virtual libraries of songs... T Bone brought in old archival songs from the twenties and thirties and many of them were in the public domain. I had songs that I had written with the band, or that other artists had sent me, and we sat down and starting sifting through history. When we found something we liked, we would either cover it or re-work it using our own words or melodies. Through this creation came an education. T Bone...knows how to take something from the past and bring it into the present while still allowing the artist to make it his own..."
While many artists like to present themselves as completely original, or acknowledge their influences only in general, Randolph makes the bold decision to give us 15 or 20 seconds of the specific songs that helped him to make the album, and to acknowledge where the music came from, even if it isn't a direct cover.
"This record is a celebration of African-American music over the past one hundred years and its social messages from the last thirty. Although we cover a whole timeline of different eras on We Walk This Road, what ties these songs together remain their message of hope, their ability to uplift."
In both his album, and in the live promotional show I had the great pleasure of attending, Robert and the band delivered. He was easily the most engaged performer I've seen, and he managed it without leaving his chair. The album is a journey, with powerful harmonies and striking lyrics that are sure to resonate within the listener. The album is more than a worthwhile purchase for any rock 'n' roll fan; it is an essential. Randolph proves once again that, like any true musician, he doesn't just know what notes to play, he knows why they need to be played.
*All quotes and pictures have been taken from http://www.robertrandolph.net*