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John Medeski, the North Mississippi Allstars and Robert Randolph
The Word
Ropeadope/Atlantic CD 93046, 2001

Funky instrumental gospel jam

Dan Macintosh, 24 March 2002

The first ever jam session must have occurred in a church. When the Spirit starts to move, nobody watches the clock. Keyboard player John Medeski, on break from his full time gig with Medeski, Martin & Wood, gathered together the North Mississippi Allstars and pedal steel player Robert Randolph for this high-stepping dance through a session of gospel blues.

Randolph is the real revelation here, as his pedal steel work steers a wide path away from the weeping willow-isms his instrument is usually associated with in the country realm for some squealing blues work. The hand-clapping Sunday service stomper "Without God" is converted into a Southern rock powerhouse. On "Waiting on My Wings," Medeski's clip-clopping organ notes lead a funk workout worthy of the almighty Meters.

As nobody in this band steps up to the mike to sing, all ten tunes are completely instrumental. Without gospel's soul-deep lyrics, this recording sacrifices much of its spiritual impact. Unless you're already familiar with the sermon-in-song messages of these mostly traditional selections, you won't likely receive their originally intended blessings.

But if you want to hear what church might sound like if the Sabbath is ever moved from Sunday morning to Saturday night, this is your fantasy disc.

performers  Chris Chew, bass; Cody Dickinson, drums & electric washboard; Luther Dickinson, guitar; John Medeski, keyboards; Robert Randolph, pedal steel guitar

production  Produced by John Medeski, Scotty Hard and The Word.

songs  Joyful Sounds · Call Him by His Name · Blood on That Rock · Without God · Waiting on My Wings · At The Cross · I'll Fly Away · I Shall Not Be Moved · Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning · Untitled

of related interest  

Robert Randolph is featured on "Sacred Steel, Vol. 2: Live at the House of God Church," a fine Arhoolie CD.

For more on John Medeski, see our survey of some of MMW's early works.

"The Word" has, like Sacred Steel, become a regular franchise. Check out the Word web site.

followup 25 May 2002

I just picked up a copy of "Live at the Wetlands" (Dare Records CD DR001) where Robert Randolph is joined by bass, drums and Hammond organ in a 70-minute shout of joy. Whew! This album starts where most kick jams end and then takes it a couple of levels higher. Ecstatic, in every sense. - Glenn Brooks

Copyright © 2002 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.