CD review of Colorblind by Robert Randolph & the Family Band

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Released: 2006
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I became an instant fan of Robert Randolph & the Family Band when I saw them perform at the 2004 Grammy Awards with OutKast and Earth Wind & Fire. Since then, I’ve seen them live multiple times and sought out anything they’ve performed on. Needless to say, I’ve been expectantly awaiting their latest release, Colorblind. I’m happy to say they certainly don’t suffer from the proverbial sophomore slump.

Although their first studio album – the appropriately named, Grammy nominated Unclassified – came out in 2003, RRATFB didn’t rest on their laurels. Since its release, they’ve toured non-stop, including opening gigs for the Dave Matthews Band, the Black Crowes and Eric Clapton, and were a staple on the festival circuit. Robert Randolph himself guest performed on many diverse albums, including the aforementioned Clapton, Anita Baker, and even Ozzy Osbourne (!). When they found time to write and record is beyond me. But they did, and Colorblind is a diverse album of material, this time getting help from some high-profile friends, including Dave Matthews & Leroi Moore, gospel singer Leela James and God himself (that would be Clapton).

The opener, “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That,” starts the show off with a series of whistles, foot stomps and hand claps that bring to mind a parade in New Orleans. The song is a driving march stating that no matter what your style or taste…well, see the title of the song. Note the comparisons made during the song: “Tight fade or long braid, snake skins or Timberlands, Hollywood or in the ‘hood”…Randolph seems to enjoy poking fun at the various trends and styles.

Randolph wears his influences on his sleeve and Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone are near the top of the list. “Deliver Me” is a gospel-tinged rocker that definitely pays homage to the former while “Diane” and “Thankful ‘N Thoughtful," itself a Sly & The Family Stone song, obviously praise the latter. Throughout these songs, bassist (and cousin) Danyell Morgan soars both musically and vocally, channeling his inner Larry Graham while hitting notes that no man with a set should be able to hit.

Slower songs like “Angels” and “Stronger” (featuring James, who sounds remarkably like Joss Stone), while good, are definitely not the strongest on the album. It seems as if RRATFB are trying to appeal to too wide an audience with these neo-soul cuts. When you’ve seen them tear it apart, these types of songs seem like a letdown.

When I heard that they were covering the Doobie Brothers classic “Jesus Is Just Alright," I was stoked. Admittedly, this is stunt casting with Clapton, but he does put butts in the seats, so to speak. It still comes off great with Clapton and Randolph playing off of one another like they’ve been together for ages. The Dave Matthews collaboration, “Love Is the Only Way," is much better than I had expected it to be. Dave’s been a disappointment lately, so I was skeptical to say the least. RRATFB + ½ DMB + Horns = the best thing Dave’s done in four years.

Randolph seems to have a knack of pulling good things out of people he works with. In fact, the entire Family Band (Randolph, Morgan, Jason Crosby on keyboards and Marcus Randolph on drums) have a chemistry that I haven’t seen since Ben Folds Five and it seems infectious. Let’s hope with the inclusion of RRATFB on ABC & ESPN’s Saturday night football telecasts, the boys get some much-needed recognition.

~Steve Wamsley