Robert Randolph & the Family Band


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Those who became aware of Robert Randolph's considerable musical gifts on either the awesome Live at the Wetlands or on the underrated Unclassified are in for a surprise. Colorblind expands the Robert Randolph & the Family Band's palette -- on tape anyway, they've been doing stuff like this on the stage for years -- stretching out from the blues ledge into gospelized, gritty funk and soul, and expanding those genres in the process. Using a group of producers from cut to cut, the Family Band takes no prisoners in this wildly crazy and utterly joyous mix of musical forms and flavors. Sure, it's a bit slicker than Live at the Wetlands, but not in any detrimental way. This is what these cats have been laying down for awhile now. It's been their vision and they've finally brought it into the studio. The opening joint is a stomping wail called "Ain't Nothing Wrong with That" that features the Family Band chanting a refrain, handclaps, and killer female backing vocals as well as Jason Crosby's B-3, as Randolph's pedal steel hovers above before coming in for the killing groove. But that's only a hint. In "Deliver Me," the sound of Sly and P-Funk come home to roost in the pile-driving rock and funk mix that once again is drenched in spirituality. The backing vocal chorus includes the Family Band, Lenesha Randolph, Tommy Sims, and Daniel Morgan in a total vocal throwdown that either George Clinton or Rick James could have arranged. Even in the love song -- "Diane" -- the groove is thick and sweaty with Randolph just burning in his fills and a horn section laying down charts Sly Stone could have written. Yeah, now this is how to celebrate romance baby! But they can slow it down, too. "Angels," (co-written with Mark Batson and Dave Matthews) is a simple soul tune where Randolph plays with just enough muddy distortion to make his axe sound like something out of the Memphis Studios of Stax. Jason Crosby's B-3 lays down the church vibe as the band sings it sweet and spiritual. Much is made of Eric Clapton's guest spot on "Jesus Is Just Alright," but let's face it, Clapton is simply outclassed, here musically and vocally. A far better match for this nugget would have been the intrepid Delaney Bramlett, who taught Clapton how to sing like that in the first place and can play guitar like a true Southern bluesman. But whatever; if it gets the record heard by the general public, that's a plus. "Stronger," with Leela James on vocals, is one of the more beautiful songs on the set. She is a gospel singer of the first order, full of deep feeling soul. Written by Randolph, Crosby and Morgan, R. Kelly will flip when he hears the genuine uplifting emotion in this tune, which has a true ability to bring folks together. He'll wish he'd written and produced it. The slippery backbeat in "Blessed" is simply infectious and "Love Is the Only Way," with Matthews, Leroi Moore and Rashawn Ross, works on the Southern soul groove despite the crowd, thanks in part to a killer horn chart and the alternating vocals, as well as Randolph's tasty fills and the backing chorus. Cuts like "Thrill of It," bring the funk and roll back with a vengeance, as much as "Thankful and Thoughtful" brings that Funkadelic stroll to the backbone and lets it slip, all greasy like. And the final track, "Homecoming," brings us all back home starting all slow and sleek, bringing its gospel to the street where the monster funk comes to church. Oh yeah. This is the song-oriented record that the Family Band needed to make, and it in no way diminishes Randolph's instrumental acumen; he's everywhere, man. Colorblind is the record some bands never reach the maturity to make, and the Family Band has pulled this together on just their second studio outing. It's not only mature, it's a smoking slab of goodness and heat. Just get it.

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