The Word: Soul Food


Videos by American Songwriter

The Word
Soul Food
3.5 out of 5 stars

Back in 2001 Robert Randolph was a young obscure pedal steel player toiling away in a little known religious genre called sacred steel, with a tune released on the tiny Arhoolie imprint. As if by divine intervention, along came keyboardist John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars who had been listening to Randolph while touring. They invited him to a one-off instrumental recording featuring his blistering pedal steel fretwork called The Word.  That release thrust Randolph into the spotlight, nabbing his own band a Warner Brothers recording contract and putting him on crossover stages with the likes of Eric Clapton. Rockers who had never so much as seen the inside of a church were grooving to his jammy, funky sounds.

Fourteen years and thousands of touring miles for the participants of that album later, it’s long past time for the follow-up. Besides two vocals on this edition (one by Ruthie Foster doing her best Mavis Staples on the roaring “When I See Blood”), and generally tighter playing, the differences are minimal. But that’s fine, since it’s not like the market was flooded with predominantly instrumental rollicking religiously inspired sacred music played by some of the world’s most talented musicians. Once again, Randolph shines throughout, whipping off electrified, snaky, sizzling licks that will shoot right into your soul.

The mostly original songs capture the gospel spirit in ballads (“The Highest”), funk (“Speaking in Tongues”), New Orleans second line (“Soul Food ll”) and driving blues rock (“Play All Day”) that will satisfy existing fans of any of the participants and win over some new ones too. The interaction between Medeski’s piano, Randolph’s incisive slide steel and the Luther Dickinson’s guitar on “You Brought the Sunshine” is alone worth the price of admission. And the dirty swamp groove of “Early in the Moanin’ Time” spotlights a darker, more ominous vibe that’s just as stunning.

Why now? With the members’ busy touring schedules, it was probably hard to get them together in the same room. But with the musical, and hopefully commercial, success of this hot-wired second edition, let’s have faith we won’t need to wait as long for part 3.


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