Bentley's Bandstand: Robert Randolph and the Family Band's We Walk This Road

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Robert Randolph and the Family Band, We Walk This Road, Warner Bros. Records

Arriving fully-formed and ready to burn, almost like he’d been transported from another planet and sent to save our souls, pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph and his Family Band have been circling the Earth for the past decade. When he stops in sanctified churches and on concert stages, the man’s music is incendiary. He has taken an instrument that is most closely associated with country music and turned it into a weapon of raging sonic power.

At first,  Randolph and his two cousins terrorized the jam band scene with hours-long sets where his pedal steel invented a language all its own. No one had seen an instrument of a dozen strings played with a small steel slide bar head for the stratosphere like that. Maybe because the style had been born in the Church of God, or possibly because Randolph really does have some Martian in him, but it didn’t take long for a major record label to throw in and try to educate the world about the possibilities present.

Two Warner Bros. albums came and went, and while they most assuredly had their righteous moments, something was missing: God. Producer T Bone Burnett must have smelled that absence, because he’s zeroed in on the songs here to convey a divine scent, whether they’re by Bob Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson, John Lennon, Prince, Peter Case or a handful of originals. Each reflects a longing of the human soul to find its way past the ordinary dimensions of secular life, and soar into the land of the spiritual.

Naturally, Robert Randolph’s pedal steel is the fuel they use to get there. It’s a sound that can’t be duplicated or even, really, described, probably because no one else outside the church is doing it. And interwoven between the lucky 11 songs are six segues of old gospel recordings, by Mitchell’s Christian Singers and his honor himself Blind Willie Johnson, to show where this sound was born and convey that no matter when the next world comes calling, we’re all going to go there someday.

What We Walk This Road offers is a joyful noise until we get there. All doubters are directed to the last song, “Salvation.” Sung by bassist Danyel Morgan and sister Lenesha Randolph and featuring the piano of Leon Russell,” it’s a slice of heaven that shows what awaits the true believers at the end. Amen.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins.

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Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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