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Randolph, Family Band sing praises of musical connections

| Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

Robert Randolph is much too young -- 32 -- for his current release to be called the album of a lifetime.

Someday, perhaps in 10 years, perhaps 20, "We Walk This Road" might be viewed as a landmark collection of songs. For now, it merely marks a pivotal stage in his career.

T-Bone Burnett, the noted producer who is best known for the "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, urged Randolph to see this as a long-term project.

Burnett told him he wanted to "create songs and make songs that you'll be singing for the next 30 years of your career," Randolph says. "That was really his vision of us working together."

Robert Randolph and the Family Band will perform Sunday at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Munhall.

With Burnett's guidance, Randolph has harnessed all of his otherworldly talents -- his mastery of the sacred pedal steel guitar, his gospel-influenced vocals -- and focused them to produce the most coherent album of his career. The music features traditional songs such as "Traveling River" and Blind Willie Johnson's "If I Had My Way I'd Tear This Building Down" that segue into new versions composed by Randolph, Burnett and Tonio K, the goal being to illustrate the continuum that is popular music.

"I guess the original design was to see if we could get to something soulful in the roots of rock," Randolph says. "What we are really doing is going back and diving into the oldest of American music and seeing how we can use it as inspiration."

The project -- which took months to complete -- became a process of discovery for Randolph. Burnett encouraged Randolph to immerse himself in various streams of music, from the blues masters of the early 20th century through the jazz and swing artists of the 1940s and '50s, to Motown and Stax recordings of the 1960s.

"By the time we started talking about covering a Prince song ('Walk Don't Walk'), it was like, wow, we have all these different songs from different decades we were inspired by," he says. "That's when we came up with the idea that this was a tribute to the American music of the last 100 years."

The original concept, as delineated on the liner notes, differs slightly: "We Walk This Road" was first cast as "a celebration of African-American music over the past 100 years and its social message from the last 30."

But Randolph quickly discovered all of contemporary music flows from the same tributary. Thus, the versions of Bob Dylan's "Shot of Love," "I Still Belong to Jesus" by Peter Case, and John Lennon's "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier Mama" neatly fit into the album's stated mission.

Although Randolph was aware of the connections and how music developed, performing songs as if they were part of a continuum enhanced his appreciation of the music.

"That's what Led Zeppelin, that's what Dylan did," Randolph says. "This is how guys like Muddy Waters became special, by music going on, by everybody developing rock 'n' roll from that."

Additional Information:

Robert Randolph and the Family Band

With: The Hill Country Revue

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $25-$30

Where: Carnegie Library Music Hall, Munhall

Details: 412-368-5225 or website

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