Music » Critics' Picks

Robert Randolph and the Family Band

Friday, May 16; Mississippi Nights

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On the seventh day, the Lord created the pedal-steel guitar. And he saw that it was good. So begins the gospel according to Robert Randolph, the twenty-five-year-old virtuoso and heir apparent to the pedal-steel throne. Unlike Stevie Ray Vaughan, Randolph favors a healthy helping of country-fried gospel flavor in his tunes. The result crosses a marching band with a hallelujah chorus and adds a dash of swampy blues that makes the mix addictive.

Randolph grew up amid the holy rolling of a Pentecostal church in New Jersey, where his father was a deacon and his mother a minister. The church originally used the pedal-steel guitar as a stand-in for the more expensive pipe organ. After taking it up in 1994, Randolph worked almost obsessively to perfect his art, graduating from his initial six-string instrument to his current custom-made version with thirteen strings. By 1999, news of Randolph and his family band reached organist John Medeski by way of the North Mississippi Allstars, who shepherded Randolph toward his first national fanbase and made him, oddly enough, a staple on the jam-band summer festival circuit. Luckily, it doesn't take a hippie to appreciate Randolph's virtuosity, and his energy infects everyone, even atheists and agnostics. He and his band -- comprising cousin Danyel Morgan on bass, cousin Marcus Randolph on drums and John Ginty on Hammond organ -- serve up a mean slice of that proverbial pie in the sky, and this time no pew is necessary.

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