Various Artists

The Greats of Sacred Steel: The Word

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Fans of the Sacred Steel tradition -- that group of pedal steel guitar greats who came out of the Church of Christ denomination where these guitars, with their diverse sonic capabilities, were much cheaper than organs -- will know by looking at the cover that this set is a hastily put together amalgam of already released tracks. The cover is, in its own way, offensive. Rather than find, or take, a photograph of one of the participants in a church service or recording studio, what the prospective buyer sees is someone playing bottleneck on an acoustic guitar with a metal resonator cone. Lazy, lazy, lazy. It also appears the man is white. Ugh. The Sacred Steel tradition comes directly out of the black church. Musically, what's here is terrific, with cuts from The Word (the entire album which takes up all of disc one), by Robert Randolph (the tradition's most recognizable face, with keyboardist John Medeski and the roots and rock outfit the North Mississippi Allstars), the Campbell Brothers, Sonny Treadway, Aubrey Ghent, and others. One of those others, who is credited as both performer and arranger, is none other than Calvin Cooke, from Detroit, who was Robert Randolph's teacher. Cooke's track offer such a lyrical and moving view of the deep emotional commitment of performance, as well as the blatant spiritual nature of the original material performed. All of this material has been previously issued by other labels including the venerable Arhoolie -- who released the first Sacred Steel records to the American public -- and Rope-A-Dope. The only advantage to this comp is its price.

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