A joyful sound: Robert Randolph and the Family Band set to play the Paramount

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald on 9/6/10] Robert Randolph and the Family Band is set to storm the Paramount Theatre stage tonight to give Rutland a foot-stomping, booty-shaking end to the Labor Day Weekend.

With his band, Randolph, a master of the pedal steel guitar, draws deeply from the gospel and blues traditions, while adding a hearty dose of rock and roll and funk.

I first saw Randolph live back in 2004. I was in Cleveland, crashing on a friend’s couch on my way out West, when, as luck would have it, Randolph happened to be in the Cleve on the same night.

The club was a medium-sized space – an old movie theater with the seats ripped out and a bar at the back of the room. Outside, the rundown neighborhood was a Rust Belt cliché, like a verse from a Springsteen song.

Inside, what followed that night remains one of the best live performances I have ever seen.

Onstage, Randolph and his band display a combination of skill, showmanship and raw energy that is nothing short of staggering.

At a Randolph show, set-lists are made on the fly, and songs segue into and out of each other like sonic silly putty, demonstrating the malleability of the medium while reaching across genres and generations.

Instruments are passed around and swapped out with equal speed and fluidity. What starts out as a slow, pensive spiritual can morph into a gritty blues jam before settling on a familiar riff by Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson (and lately, even Lady Gaga).

These are musicians playing on the top of their game and loving every minute of it.

“It’s a joyful experience for everyone,” said Randolph in a phone interview last week.

Straddling the world of gospel, blues and rock means Randolph’s fans are as diverse as his influences. The band has won acclaim among traditional lovers of gospel and blues as well as the jamband community.

Their current touring schedule reflects that diversity. “We don’t leave anyone out,” Randolph said, noting that this summer has seen them play in front of variety of crowds.

That “joyful” sound is Randolph’s contribution to a progression of American music that stretches back to Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly and Muddy Waters, and includes other modern interpreters of the American soundscape such as Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, Sly Stone and the Grateful Dead.

The band’s latest album, “We Walk this Road,” is a tribute to that tradition. A collaboration with award-winning producer T-Bone Burnett, the record is a mix of originals and covers of American traditionals spanning over a century of musical history.

“That’s what rock and roll is,” said Randolph, noting his place within that historical progression.

Of his return to Vermont, Randolph is excited. “It’s been a while,” he said. (The band has previously played in Burlington at both UVM and Higher Ground.)

“It’s good to get back,” Randolph said.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band will perform at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland at 8 p.m. today.

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