Robert Randolph Returns

June 30th, 2010

Robert Randolph and the Family Band – The Bowery Ballroom – June 29, 2010

(Photo: John Nunu Zomot)

(Photo: John Nunu Zomot)

Has it been 10 years already? Yes, it’s been a decade and some change since Robert Randolph first announced his arrival on the NYC music scene, debuting on The Bowery Ballroom’s stage with a raw energy and superlative talent rarely seen in an unknown opening act. Last night, Randolph brought his joy-fueled pedal-steel guitar back to the Lower East Side, celebrating the release of his new album, We Walk This Road.

Backed by his Family Band, Randolph acknowledged the significance of the 10 years that had transpired, but for the most part he was looking back much further than that. Many of the tracks from the new album are reworked versions of old spiritual and gospel numbers. Scratchy samples of bits of older or original versions played over the PA before the band launched into updated fiery, funked-up versions of the same. “Traveling Shoes” opened the show and set the pace, with the pedal steel bridging the old and new, screaming like a sermon and bumping with dancehall energy along with the band—cousins, sister and sidemen all sharing the vocals.

Besides a scintillating version of “The March,” which got the sold-out crowd moving, the other constant from the past decade was the pure joy Randolph and Co. put into and get out of the music they play. It seemed they didn’t want to stop, extending each song with awe-inspiring, concise pedal-steel excursions. “If I Had My Way” brought out solos from bass, guitar and organ, before dropping into the classic sing-along coda of the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.” As always, there was positive energy, good times and smiles all around—enough to last another 10 years. —A. Stein