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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Sep
Sounds like … a fun fusion of classic guitar rock, blues, funk, and soul that brings to mind Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jonny Lang, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, and the proficient jams of Dave Matthews BandAt a glance … with more emphasis on tighter songs than looser jams, Robert Randolph & The Family Band takes their impressive musicianship and jubilant hybrid of funk, rock, and soul to a more accessible level on ColorblindTrack Listing Ain't Nothing Wrong with That Deliver Me Diane Angels Jesus Is Just Alright Stronger Thrill of It Blessed Love Is the Only Way Thankful 'n' Thoughtful Homecoming

It's already been three years since we last heard from Robert Randolph & The Family Band with their Grammy nominated studio debut Unclassified, but that doesn't mean they've had much down time. Their star has only been on the rise through relentless touring, sharing the stage with The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Matthews Band, and even Eric Clapton, who has since become a friend and mentor to Randolph. Not bad for a band that got its start playing out of their House of God Pentecostal congregation in New Jersey.

There's no questioning the proficiency and energy with which Randolph and company play. But 2002's Live at the Wetlands merely captured an improvisational blues-gospel ("sacred steel") band in concert. Unclassified made our Best Albums list the following year, but the shorter songs weren't particularly memorable, simple compositions created out of the band's jamming. So in the time since, Randolph and his two cousins have devoted a good deal of time honing their writing skills with assistance from industry vets.

It was time well spent. By placing more emphasis on tightly constructed songs instead of recapturing the improvisation of their stage show, they've come up with their most accessible and irresistible album to date. The songs again come in small doses on Colorblind, but they now have stronger grooves and hooks—Randolph's pedal steel guitar licks are restrained just enough to compliment a melody. All of which helps to bring this band that much closer to the exciting but approachable and fun sides of Clapton, Sly & The Family Stone, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, and Jonny Lang.

"Ain't Nothing Wrong with That" is about as strong an opener as you'll find with its pounding rhythm and full background vocal. If the awesome funk of "Deliver Me" doesn't raise your pulse, be sure to check it. "Thrill of It" recalls Kravitz, not to mention dc Talk's "Mind's Eye," and it could serve as the album's single—it's being featured as the part-time opening song for ABC's Saturday night college football games this season.

The band's sound has attracted some cool guests too. Leela James lends her soulful pipes to the ballad "Stronger," probably the best song on the album, acknowledging the strengthening influence of someone's love—"Sometimes the load gets heavy/Sometimes it's just too much for me to bear/But I can rise above it/With you I can be stronger." Dave Matthews appears with his saxophonist Leroi Moore on the smooth soul of "Love Is the Only Way." And even ol' Slow Hand Clapton contributes vocals and guitar to a scorchin' cover of The Byrds classic "Jesus Is Just Alright."

Though the songs are a big step in the right direction, Randolph and his band are still more about their sound than the content. They've never been particularly explicit in their spirituality, though it does seem subtler this time, relying on general themes of life and love.

"Thrill of It" decries complacency in a sinful world, but ultimately doesn't say offer more than, "It might hurt just a little bit while I'm trying to figure it out/I'm on this ride for the thrill of it/Living the dream that's what life's all about." The opener "Ain't Nothing Wrong with That" is a playful invitation to people of every race and nation, but there's a lyric that may unintentionally raise a few eyebrows—"I don't know what I've been told/When the music gets down in your soul/It makes you wanna lose control and there ain't nothing wrong with that." And though Randolph means it harmlessly, "Angels" is less about higher power than it is about faith and self-esteem restored through romance—"You've got me believing in angels/You see things in me I don't see … You've got me believing in me."

Still, you can find expressions of faith here if you choose to. The bouncy gospel ballad "Blessed" touches on the good feelings inspired by faith that cause others to search for a reason to believe, and "Deliver Me" offers up a generic but applicable prayer for relief. But maybe the music simply speaks for itself, like the mostly instrumental funky gospel groove of "Thankful 'n' Thoughtful." These guys aren't trying to evangelize or reinvent the gospel through this album. They're simply celebrating their gifts through a musical party—everyone's invited and you won't want to miss it.

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