Robert Randolph & The Family Band: Brighter Days
After more than a decade and a half, new music from Robert Randolph & The Family Band isn’t usually full of surprises: Fans know beyond a doubt that they will hear some of the most jaw-droppingly innovative pedal-steel guitar playing, set within impeccably played songs that walk the fine line where funk, gospel, rock and soul meet. In that sense, Brighter Days is mostly more of the same: The first video released from the album, “Second Hand Man,” co-written by Randolph and Aaron Raitiere (who contributed a few songs to the soundtrack of A Star Is Born ), tells a naughtily familiar “something on the side” tale amid a solid groove that wouldn’t be alien to Sly or Stevie. But spin the second song given the video treatment, “Have Mercy,” and the album’s true nature makes its presence known: Randolph came out of the world of gospel music, and everything about this soulful track (co-penned by the leader and producer Dave Cobb) reaches back into that well for inspiration. Backed by the Nashville Urban Choir, directed by Shannon Sanders, with a powerful guest vocal from Lenesha Randolph, “Have Mercy” is pure, fiery gospel soul. And just to drive the point home, the three tunes preceding it on the collection also draw from Randolph’s gospel roots. Brighter Days does go to other places—the album-closing “Strange Train” is topped off by blast of nasty, fuzzy guitar—and, ultimately, it’s more diverse than some of the band’s previous releases, without shedding any of the identity the Family Band has created for itself over the years.