Unclassified

Unclassified

4.8 6
by Robert Randolph & the Family Band
     
 

Plucked from the House of God Church, a Pentecostal denomination that's known for its roof-raising incorporation of pedal steel guitar into its worship, Robert Randolph continues to spread his ecstatic gospel with Unclassified. Not that Randolph specifically invokes Christianity on this album. But the soul-shocking power of his music is undeniably sourced inSee more details below

Overview

Plucked from the House of God Church, a Pentecostal denomination that's known for its roof-raising incorporation of pedal steel guitar into its worship, Robert Randolph continues to spread his ecstatic gospel with Unclassified. Not that Randolph specifically invokes Christianity on this album. But the soul-shocking power of his music is undeniably sourced in the church, and his mainstream success may just be the biggest boost that gospel's gotten since Ray Charles took spirituals to the top of the pop charts in the '50s. Backed by the Family Band, which includes his cousins Danyell Morgan (bass and vocals) and Marcus Randolph (drums), Randolph conducts his shows and recordings like a church service -- or a jam band -- with each song reaching higher and higher, harder and louder, before pulling back. The flirtatious call-and-response is at the root of rock and goes deeper, encompassing all African-derived rhythms, some of which Randolph samples on Unclassified. The Sly Stone–style funk of "Soul Refreshing" and "I Need More Love" meets Latin rock on "Calypso"; "Run for Your Life" counts on the pedal steel's country associations to drive its point home; while "Why Should I Be Lonely" roars forth straight from the church. Randolph's knees-weakening playing holds it all together, taking the music higher and higher, thanks to his deep arsenal of licks, judicious use of effects, and a simply inspired way with his unique instrument. One listen to Unclassified, and newcomers will join the choir in praise of this dynamo.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
The second full-length from sacred steel genius Robert Randolph & the Family Band delivers, from the studio, the same promise, grit, grease, and sweat that Live at the Wetlands did. Randolph pulls out the stops in the studio, using his own band, without any of the hotshot guest stars who he's appeared with in the last two years. Unclassified features a road-tested, studio-savvy band using all of its collected gifts with producer Jim Scott to make a record that is as much about soul, funk, hard rock, folk, and jam band intensity as it is about the gospel music that first inspired the unit. On first listen, listeners might be taken aback by "So Refreshing," with its soul groove and tight gospel arrangements and a greasy P-Funk bass running alongside Randolph's razor-wire and switchblade steel. But contrast it with the in-the-pit wail of "Squeeze," with organs and syncopated rhythms playing counterpoint to the steel and bass, or the Stevie Wonder-esque hard funk of "I Need More Love," with keyboards rollicking along the groove as the bass literally pops around a chorus that delivers the call-and-response choir in full-on, Sunday church, Funkadelic effect. Unclassified is, in all of its varied approaches to gospel music and the sacred steel tradition, incontrovertible proof that they can deliver from the booth as well as they do on a stage and with more variety. This is a free-sounding record, given how so much of it feels live with its intensity and its focus on shape-shifting rhythmic and harmonic structures in the improvising, yet all within the context of "song." "Smile" features tender lyrics and gorgeous harmonies, while "So Refreshing," with its Sly Stone Fresh-era open R&B pockets of easy melodic invention and rumbling funky overtones, gives the vocalists lots of room to bring home the atmosphere of the tune; it's summery, free, and full of light. These two tracks stand in sharp contrast to the jam sensibilities that much of the rest of the album operates on, but they are wondrously multi-dimensional portals into the band's collective psyche. While it's true that Randolph's steel, which is immediately recognizable everywhere here, is supplanted by the fattest, gnarliest bass this side of Bootsy Collins, the instrumental attack of the Family Band is in its ability to change its sound on virtually every track. "Calypso," with its flights-of-fancy explorations into the realms of jazz-rock and Santana-esque Latin jam consciousness, opens up the American gospel palette infinitely, and the shattering country gospel -- via New Jersey nightclub rock & roll infusion -- of "Run for Your Life" that caps the disc is a summation of the journey; that journey is spiritual and full of humor, empathy, and expansive notions of what music is, and how it plays a role in the relief of suffering in everyday life. This is multivalent music, full of the message of joy, passion, and realization, and it is played in such an enlightened manner, so completely unburdened by the rigidities of context and category, that it exists on its own plane. How many times can you say that about a pop record in the 21st century? Unclassified is truly awesome and inspiring; it provides a guidepost for sacred steel music in the future and will hopefully enter the mainstream -- though that's doubtful -- of American popular culture.
Rolling Stone
Randolph sings expressions of devotion to a lover or a higher power with a believer's conviction, then relies on his wailing, writhing, soaring-at-eagle-altitude guitar lines to bring his point home.
Entertainment Weekly - Chris Willman
[Randolph's] signature sound... suggests Sly's own Family meeting the brothers Allman and Doobie at a gospel throwdown. (B)

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Product Details

Release Date:
08/05/2003
Label:
Warner Bros / Wea
UPC:
0093624847229
catalogNumber:
48472

Tracks

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Robert Randolph & the Family Band   Primary Artist
Neal Casal   Background Vocals
Candace Anderson   Background Vocals
Daniel Morgan   Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Electric Guitar,Vocals
John Ginty   Piano,Hammond Organ
Lenesha Randolph   Background Vocals
Robert Randolph   Acoustic Guitar,Pedal Steel Guitar,Electric Guitar,Vocals,Indexed Contributor
Marcus Randolph   Drums

Technical Credits

Jim Scott   Producer,Engineer
Rick Fowler   Duet
Daniel Morgan   Composer
Mike Buckman   Art Direction
Gene Grimaldi   Mastering
John Ginty   Composer
Ryan Hewitt   Engineer
Lenesha Randolph   Duet
Robert Randolph   Composer
Marcus Randolph   Composer
Robert Randolph & the Family Band   Producer

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