Record Review - 3 December 12 2001

A true collaboration, this alliance between acid-jazzster John Medeski, swamp-blues rockers the North Mississippi Allstars and sacred steel guitarist Robert Randolph is music-making of the most genuine order. Unconcerned by the commercial (or a lack thereof) prospects of recording an entirely instrumental album filled with obscure gospel and established religious tunes, this ad-hoc supergroup has produced one devil of a righteous brimstone-smoking disc.

Opening with a traditional spiritual melody, the players gradually grab for blues, jazz and folk threads. The Word's religious roots are goosed with classic Duane-era Allman-Brothers-Band-style jamming. Although the North Mississippi Allstars and Medeski are the marquee names, it's Randolph's almost surreal steel playing — infused with Hendrix's passion by way of Stevie Ray Vaughan sweat — that lends this project its cachet.

"Call Him by His Name" begins ominously with Randolph's simmering angelic, arching lines before igniting into flame-throwing leads. Live at the Fillmore East fans will recognize the thunderous rumbling codas of "Whipping Post" in the extended intro to "Without God."

The exuberance these inspired musicians get out of feeding off their shared energy and inspirations transcends the grooves. The way they gel as if spiritually connected is embodied on the eight-minute "Waiting on My Wings," which explodes when the quintet shifts into divine overdrive led by Medeski's bubbling Hammond B3, Randolph's unworldly lines and the Allstars' tensile, greasy rhythm section.

If they played this stuff in church, you'd have to buy scalped tickets to get in. The power of rock, the honesty of blues, the unpredictable improvisation of jazz and the sweaty yearning of gospel combine for 50 riveting minutes in the rousing, wordless Word.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band play Fri., Dec. 14, Smith's Olde Bar.??