Gospel groove

Jul 25, 2001 at 12:00 am

If your priest whipped out a Stratocaster and started wailing, this is how you’d feel, the same way you feel listening to The Word. The pews are shaking, the crucifixes are rattling on the walls, the holy water is sloshing, you are sweating in your itchy church clothes. You can’t believe it; you’re groovin’ to some gospel. You’re thinking, “Why doesn’t this happen more often?”

A collaboration between Robert Randolph, the North Mississippi Allstars and John Medeski, The Word was inspired by the music of House of God branch of the Pentecostal Church, which is known for its bluesy hymns played on the steel guitar. In the church, where Randolph exclusively played before starting to matriculate gigs nine months ago, the wild, involuntary dancing that accompanies these hymns is attributed to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The wild dancing that this recording will inspire, however, will undoubtedly be voluntary. This revelatory quality resounds through each song on the album, elevating the music above the standard canon of blues-rock.

The best part of this collaboration is that each musician brings something to the table. The Allstars set the scene with a dirty, warbling blues backdrop, Medeski adds a hint of Medeski, Martin and Wood’s balls-out, no-holds-barred improvisation, and Randolph injects electrifying energy into the mix with his patented steel scream. Yet each musician allows himself to be blanketed by the divine dreaminess of gospel.

“Joyful Sounds” and “Waiting on My Wings” are the most impressive tracks on The Word. They begin slowly and gracefully, moving like angels looping through the sky, then come crashing down, burning and wailing, Randolph’s steel guitar a dominating presence. However, every song on The Word sparkles and shouts in its own right. You can literally thank God for this one.

E-mail Joshua Gross at [email protected].