Robert Randolph and the Family Band's latest, and fourth album, We Walk This Road continues the band's exploration of the traditional African-American musical experience, combining funk, rock, blues, R&B, and old slave songs. The album is a mix of all of these, showing how these old styles and the new styles that have spawned can be combined. Randolph tries to make them all work together in a cohesive whole.
We Walk This Road feels retro, even while retaining a freshness. It seems both new and familiar. During the creation of this album, Randolph and his band listened to music from field songs all the way to current day and sampled things they liked, remaking and revising old pieces. The resulting songs are accessible, simple, and fun, easy to sing-along with and dance to. The lyrics are fairly simple, with the repetition calling to mind the traditional songs of field workers.
The first song, "Traveling Shoes," introduces Randolph's signature use of the pedal steel guitar. This lends the song a country feel, with lyrics and harmonies that are very gospel-esque. These strong harmonies pervade the rest of the album. "Back to the Wall" has more of an R&B tone, with the guitars screaming like they were in a rock band. The "like whoa" unison refrain is a throwback to funk roots. In contrast, "Shot of Love" has a country-rock vibe, with some additional soul included.
"I Still Belong to Jesus" is more straightforward gospel, save for the guitar solo near the end. The song is lovely in its simple yet challenging words that chronicle the difficulties of the Christian life. "If I Had My Way" is a rollicking folk/country piece about Daniel and the lion's den, performed with help from Ben Harper and his guitar. "Don't Change" has jazz and blues elements, with some funk added in there for good measure.
"I Don't Want to Be a Soldier Mama" and "Walk Don't Walk" have great funk vibes, and both have social messages in their lyrics. "Walk Don't Walk" talks about walking one's own way instead of the way the world demands. I have to say, the "Sha-na-na-nas" followed by the low, low bass made me smile. I felt the same about the low bass on "Dry Bones." In a musical culture of falsetto (Muse, anyone?), it's nice to still hear a man's low voice on a recording. "Dry Bones" is one of the standout songs on this album, just because it makes encourages the listener to dance, and I'm fairly certain that Robert Randolph and his companions would highly encourage that.
"I'm Not Listening" continues the amazing harmonies that are throughout the album. The album's final song, "Salvation," brings the energy down a few notches, with some help from Leon Russell on piano. It was a soft and soulful exit to the record and a different feel from most of the other songs on the album. I would have enjoyed hearing more like this.
We Walk This Road is a fun album, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band are doing unique things in the musical sphere. One problem found within, however, is that it does get a little repetitive. The songs all have the same beat, the same tonal quality, the same exuberance. Songs don't really stand out because they all sound so similar. That is both a good and a bad thing: it brings cohesion to the album but sometimes wears the listener down with too much of the same thing.
I'd recommend giving We Walk This Road a shot. It's a musical journey, repetitive though it may be. Even if you decide it's not for you, give Robert Randolph and the Family Band some props for what they're doing musically - there's not many out there like them.
- Review date: 6/20/10, written by Sara Kelm of Jesusfreakhideout.com