The debut studio album from Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Unclassified resurrects the spiritual fervor of gospel, gutbucket soul of the blues, earthy power of R&B and raucous energy of rock. Led by pedal steel guitarist Randolph, who has been compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix, RRFB was named Best New Artist at the recent W.C. Handy Blues Awards and New Groove of the Year at the Jammy Awards. With Unclassified, the secret is out.
Is this a big-tent revival? A funky throwdown? A jam-band juggernaut? Unclassified
is all that, and so much more. The story of Robert Randolph is Hollywood-issue: kid from the gritty Jersey streets is saved from the bad life by playing steel guitar in a House of God Church. Of course, it wouldn't mean a thing if the guy couldn't play, but he can really tear it up. By updating the sacred-steel tradition with heavy doses of blues, funk, and rock, he's not only emerged with his own sound, but he's brought the music full circle, returning those pop-music styles to their gospel roots. The disc reaches some terrific heights from the very start with a fiery trio of opening songs: "Going in the Right Direction," "I Need More Love," and "Nobody" are joyous, uplifting romps brimming with the fervor of gospel music. Four instrumentals show the breadth of the sound, from the country-tinged "Squeeze" to the modal and slightly spaced-out "Calypso" to the scorching gospel-infused closer "Run for Your Life." A couple of the slower tunes impede the album's momentum, but at its best Unclassified
comes awfully close to capturing the intensity of the Family Band's live shows--which is no small feat indeed. --Marc Greilsamer