Robert Randolph and the Family Band: Unclassified

I was in a bad mood when I started listening, so I was prepared to rip into this one. I maintained my cynicism through the first song, but I appreciated both the guitar playing and the positivity of the lyrics. (Although Randolph directs much of his energy toward praising God, the words rarely spell that out, which is a good thing in my eyes.) However, as soon as "I Need More Love" kicked in with that coffee-pot bass tone and some subtle guitar riffs, a huge smile broke out on my face. Since I was sitting at a big wooden table in the Social Sciences room of the Pratt Central Library, I probably looked a little bit crazy.

The lyrics of "I Need More Love" are short, but they tap into a lot of things that are relevant to living in Baltimore: A financial and spiritual poverty that devastates our neighborhoods, perceptions of racism that hang over all our residents, a perpetual tension that plagues many of us, and a dearth of love that is literally killing us. When he sings, "And help me get my mind right," I know what he's saying. Sometimes I think every single one of us in this city needs some serious help getting our minds right.

The rest of the album delivers on the promises of the first couple songs. No, it's not consistent from front to back ("Soul Refreshing" and "Problems" are weak throwbacks to the washed-out gospel-funk of the late '80s and early '90s), but it's a good listen. The steel guitar in "Smile" helps pull the song out of the doldrums of generic positivity, and the musicianship throughout the album -- particularly Randolph's guitar work -- is excellent.

Unclassified isn't breaking any new ground, but sometimes that's okay. Sometimes we just need to listen to music that makes us feel good for a little while.

Music: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Consistently strong playing from the whole band from start to finish, but the slower songs fail to achieve the emotion that is necessary to make slow songs work.

Packaging: 2.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
It's average all the way around. Nothing to condemn and nothing to celebrate.

Listen if you like: Sly & the Family Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, gospel from the 1990s.

If it were food, it'd be: Chicken soup.


bob_vinyl said...

I liked the album before this a good bit, but the pre-release single left me a little bored. In that sense, I'm glad it's erratic, because there may be some stuff on their that's up my alley.

By the way, what do you know about chicken soup? Because I know you, I know that you haven't eaten chicken soup in something like 20 years. How can you compare this album to chicken soup when you're so far removed from it? Is that kinda like reviewing the record without listening to it?

danielle said...

Interesting idea for a blog...

I never would have guessed this album is at the library.

RR&TFB are, in opinion, much better enjoyed live than recorded.

taotechuck said...

Thanks, Danielle. I've been amazed by what CDs I've found at the library. Whoever is ordering music over there seems to have some sort of love for what he/she is doing.

I had no idea Robert Randolph would've played somewhere as small as Sonar. Your pics make it look like it was a great show. I'll have to hope that they play somewhere like that next time around, since I hate seeing bands in big venues.