There has always been a spiritual and soulful energy emanating from the stage at Wetlands Preserve. For the past thirteen years, bands have cut their teeth on the intimate confines of this Lower Manhattan haunt. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the debut album from Robert Randolph & his Family Band was recorded live at this “temple” of rock. Having played hosts to so many rising stars throughout the years, it is evidenced from the opening introduction by club owner Peter Shapiro that they knew yet another legend was born.
The album begins with an absolute raging version of “Ted’s Jam.” They should name a roller coaster after this one, as Randolph begins the tune as if making the initial climb to the top. He revs the engines a few times on his machine (The Steel Pedal Guitar), before it goes tumbling over the edge, and into the twists and turns of a classic double looper. From this point on, you just know you’re in for a very special ride, so trust the driver.
“The March” keeps things moving, and I mean moving, as Randolph and his band lay down just the best knee tapping, feet bouncing, elbows above your ears groove you could ask for. Kind of makes me wish I joined the marching band when I was younger. Now if you’re anything like me, and dripping with sweat from the first two tunes, you can really appreciate as they slow it down a bit with “Pressing My Way.” But don’t be fooled as this one gets cookin’ just the same. It also features Randolph’s cousin, Danyell Morgan on bass and vocals. Hitting octaves usually reserved for the other gender, Danyell proves it really is all in the diaphragm. The song lyrics are about getting through times when things didn’t go exactly your way, and about staying the course regardless of the obstacles you might face. “Press On!”
“Shake your Hips” conjures images that maybe you’ve heard the pedal steel played before. At first, it sounds as if you’re about to be treated to a version of Bob Dylan’s classic "Highway 61 Revisited." But this is no gritty cover, as the song becomes a vehicle for Robert to introduce his band, and let each member strut some stuff. A true “family,” in addition to Robert and cousin Danyell, the band also features cousin Marcus Randolph on drums, and “third” cousin John Ginty on the Hammond B-3 organ.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, this music really makes you want to get up and dance. In fact, I would suggest checking the pulse on anyone actually sitting still after about a minute of listening. On the track “I Don’t Know What You Came to Do,” Randolph makes it perfectly clear that if you’re not looking to get up and shake your stuff, maybe you should consider stepping aside. That proves to be good advice, as the song goes into an all out frenzy of foot stomping, screaming, clapping excitement. This song makes me think of the scene from the movie Blues Brothers with Jake & Elwood at the Southside church. Much like in the movie, I could envision the crowd at the Wetlands literally bouncing off the walls.
The ending track, “Start Stop,” is almost like a good versus evil challenge. Flowing melodies create a sea of warmth while the hard driving chords make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. This song really brings out the soul, which Mr. Randolph and his family so clearly have deep in their bones.
This album pays tribute to a style of music almost forgotten. Robert Randolph makes his guitar sing with all the glory he can conjure, and like a good family, his band is there to support and show him the way. It also pays tribute to a venue that has played such an intricate role in the lives of so many. We are very fortunate to have this recording that captures an evening in time that can truly never be re-created. Randolph’s music makes me want to get up and dance, raise my hands in the air, sing, laugh, and let it all go. Give it a good listen; just make sure to clear out the furniture before you do.
Buy The Album!