Robert Randolph / Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Live at the Wetlands

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Sacred steel guitar seems tied in spirit and substance to its gospel piano counterpart: Both instruments encourage harmony-based performance, yet in the church context each emphasizes the dramatic gesture instead. This is especially true when performed live, as church music by definition tends to be. On this set, Randolph generates an enormous amount of heat. Much of his solo on the opening cut, "Ted's Jam," boils down to little more than a single note played repeatedly; other passages feature quick-picked licks at a Satriani clip. The band's rhythmic support fans these fires; pointed articulation from the bass and drums balances the steel's legato tendencies. At times they sound a lot like the Allman Brothers, in large part because of John Ginty's straightforward style and timbral preferences on organ. This, of course, encourages comparisons between Randolph and Duane Allman -- comparisons that seem more intriguing the longer you listen. Certainly their tones are similar, as are their searing glissandi and aversion to articulated harmonies. Only slower chorded passages, and places where Randolph rips across multiple octaves in about a millionth of a second, highlight the steel's distinctive attributes. What can't be denied is that the presumably ecumenical crowd at Wetlands was into it when Randolph came to, as the artist proclaims at the beginning of the gig, "raise the roof" shortly before the venerable club was torn down.

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