Robert Randolph / Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Brighter Days

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Brighter Days Review

by Mark Deming

Robert Randolph is inarguably the leading champion among pedal steel guitarists working outside of country music, though it's not as if he competes in an especially large field. After first cutting his teeth in gospel music, Randolph has been storming stages across the country and around the world with his heavyweight fusion of blues, rock, and gospel influences, with the dirtied-up tone of his instrument wailing hard and crying with passion as he and his band draw sweat. With that in mind, it's hard to imagine why Randolph and his crew would want to go to Nashville and record with someone primarily associated with country music. But Dave Cobb, the hotshot producer who has been behind the controls for some outstanding released from Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, and Zac Brown, isn't a typical Nashville studio guy, and on 2019's Brighter Days he's clearly eager to help Randolph is his mission to redefine the boundaries of the pedal steel. Cobb has given these performances a sound that walks a comfortable middle ground between the boisterous rapport of the Family Band in full flight and a tighter, better-controlled attack that allows each musician's contribution to be heard, not just Randolph's fiery steel workouts. Brighter Days also works harder to fuse Randolph's spiritual concerns with music that delivers a very secular kick; "Baptise Me," "Have Mercy," and "I Need You" are steeped in his devotion to the Lord, but they move the body as well as the spirit, and if "Don't Fight It" and "Strange Train" are less explicit in their relationship with faith, the passion and conviction of a Sunday morning service are recognizable when the musicians get happy. Brighter Days is a bit tidier and less adventurous than 2017's Got Soul, but it captures the heart and soul of Robert Randolph & the Family Band as well as their big, bold sound, and the results are strong, satisfying stuff.

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