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The church of Robert Randolph soars

Paradise, Boston, March 1, 2003

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - There is the Church of Bruce and now there may be a new one on the rise as well - the Church of Robert Randolph & The Family Band.

Unlike Springsteen, however, where he adopts the role of a preacher belting out at times gritty, uplifting music, Randolph's music really is steeped in the church. And to the gospel sounds, you can add funk, soul, Hendrix, the blues and rock.

Randolph, a 24-year-old New Jersey resident, plays the pedal and lap steel guitars as the lead instrument in a quartet.

And play they did at the second of two-sold out shows at the 700 person venue, the quickest Randolph has ever sold out gigs, he told the crowd at the finale in thanking them for their support.

Randolph was discovered in 2000 while playing at a sacred steel convention in Florida. Apparently things have been mushroomed quite nicely from there as he played the New York area, were the backing band for the Blind Boys of Alabama's Grammy winning "Higher Ground" and last year released a live album on Warner.

But Randolph live is far more powerful than Randolph's lone disc.

This wasn't going to be your average night when Randolph sauntered on stage and sat down at the steel and offered a slow, low key number while telling the crowd, "Whatever you do in life, don't forget to pray. Nothing wrong with praying." Not your typical message heard at a rock club.

And while he later talked on how the band has lost two uncles since January and earlier mentioned a friend getting gunned down, this was far from any kind of downer show. In fact, just the exact opposite.

The music and message is one of resurgence and uplift, which the congregation easily bought into this fine night. There tended to be not a lot of words to the songs, but more of a message.

"Pressing My Way" talks about life's troubles, but the ongoing message, which the crowd sang with Randolph time and again was "press on."

When being concerned about the self, the message was "I need more love every day of my life," which the crowd also kept singing over and over and over.

Sort of along the lines of if you repeat the message enough times, it will be believed. In this case, it's not such a bad thing.

Not everything was so message oriented. Randolph could get playful as well. "Shake Your Hips," from Slim Harpo's catalogue, was playful with a few young women bounding up on stage and answering the call from Randolph, who clearly was having a good time, to be joined by about a dozen others.

The music was probably even stronger than the message. Randolph is a very fine player who uses the steel instrument the same as a lead guitar. The sound screams off the instrument, which is often used in country music.

Randolph has an excellent backing band as well with cousin Danyel Morgan on bass and high-pitched vocals, John Ginty on the Hammond organ and cousin Marcus Randolph on drums.

"Tears of Joy" rocked out big time. Time and again, you thought the song was about to end when suddenly Randolph et al took it to an even higher gear with the sounds jumping off the steel, and the band, joined by guitarist Neal Casal of opening act Hazy Malaze, rocking out with great energy.

These guys also must be in great shape having played 2:35 minutes with very little down time or throwaway numbers. A cover of "Isn't She Lovely," was adequate, starting slowly before picking up some steam.

The buzz must have been strong in Boston to have quickly sold out two shows. Can't wait for the next time the church is in session.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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