Next Saturday night we are so very proud to host two of the most astonishingly talented and deeply generous artists in modern American music— pedal-steel guitar player, bandleader and producer Robert Randolph and multi-instrumentalist and trance-blues progenitor Otis Taylor.
Both of these artists are releasing albums this month that harness their distinct artistry in honor of musical collaborators who have greatly inspired them.
“Robert Randolph presents The Slide Brothers” hits stores next Tuesday. It is the first album for the enduring and beloved Slide Brothers–Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent, each of whom was raised worshiping and performing “Sacred Steel” in The Church of the Living God. They were an ad hoc family, traveling and learning from the other dominions in their communities in cities from Nashville to Chicago to Newark. They’ll join us here in Royce Hall with Randolph as part of a triumphant tour in support of their first-ever studio release, decades in the making.
Since hitting the scene in 2000, Randolph himself has been instrumental in proselytizing the Sacred Steel tradition to modern audiences with his engaging Family Band.
He counts The Slide Brothers as a major influence and an inspiration.
“I was born with these guys,” Randolph says. “I look to them the same way I look to blues greats like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Aubrey Ghent and Henry Nelson, Aubrey’s dad, and The Campbell Brothers; they all shaped this Sacred Steel tradition inside the churches but they weren’t allowed to leave the church until now.”
The Slide Brothers’ album includes 11 tracks and features some of the most dynamic electric slide guitar playing ever recorded. Inspired by Randolph to finally emerge beyond their respected positions within the Sacred Dteel community, the Slide Brothers tackle rock, funk and even the deepest blues with a ferocity that will startle fans of Duane Allman, Derek Trucks and even Muddy Waters.
The Slide Brothers shift easily between genres, incorporating both traditional gospel repertoire as well as and secular material. To underscore the album’s diversity, a stirring instrumental version of the spiritual classic “Wade in the Water,” is followed by a vibrant and bluesy cover of Fatboy Slim’s 1999 trip hop hit “Praise You” (featuring vocals by blues queen Shemekia Copeland and backing by Robert Randolph & the Family Band). Jimmy Carter of the famed Blind Boys Of Alabama joins Aubrey Ghent to provide lead vocals for “My Sweet Lord.”
“It has long been a vision of all of ours to be able to this,” says Chuck Campbell. “Robert was able to pull together the top steel players from different generations. It is truly an honor to be a part of album that brings together so many wonderful people such as [Jimi Hendrix bassist] Billy Cox, Shemekia Copeland, and the Blind Boys Of Alabama. Instead of us meeting at a church convention we were able to get everyone together in a recording studio to play secular songs and religious songs with the same conviction. We feel blessed that we have finally been able to do this.”
Meanwhile, on Feb. 12, Otis Taylor’s 13th album arrived with “My World is Gone.” With his powerful and unique blend of roots music and narrative poetry, Taylor explores the struggles of Native Americans, with contributions from guitar virtuoso Mato Nanji, frontman of American blues-rock band Indigenous.
The central theme of “My World Is Gone” was fueled by Nanji.
“Mato inspired the entire direction of this album,” Taylor said. “We were talking about history backstage at a Jimi Hendrix tribute concert that Mato had just played, and, in reference to his people, the Native American Nakota Nation, he said ‘My world is gone.’ The simplicity and honesty of those four words was so heavy, I knew what I had to write about.”
Taylor had already begun composing new tunes with other themes for his follow-up to 2012’s critically heralded Contraband. Three of those — “Green Apples,” “Gangster and Iztatoz Chauffeur” and “Coming With Crosses” — appear on “My World Is Gone.”
But inspired by Nanji — who also plays electric and acoustic guitars on six tracks and joins Taylor on vocals for several songs — and by his own understanding of Native American culture developed in part through dealing in Indian art as a young man, Taylor embarked on a soul-searching journey into the past and present, and into the psyche, of America’s indigenous people.
“I’ve written songs about slavery, but here in America that’s considered part of the past,” Taylor explains. “What’s happened and what’s happening to Native Americans is still going on. A lot of people forget that. This is a reminder.”