The Slide Brothers
Listening to Sacred Steel in and of itself can be a religious experience. Born in the House of God Church over 80 years ago, Robert Randolph is the most familiar of the standard bearers for this musical tradition and here he has brought together the preeminent men who are keeping this wonderful music form alive and thriving. Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, Chuck Campbell and Darick Campbell are the Slide Brothers. They were all raised in the Church of the Living God and when you listen to this album you can see that some form of almighty power is motivating these guys to levels of stratospheric musical genius. Phil Campbell also sits in for some of the tracks on guitar as does Robert Randolph on guitar and slides.
The album opens with “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” an Allman Brothers anthem that Duane and Dickey would amaze audiences with their dual slide prowess. Here the Campbell Brothers fill that role with Calvin Cooke providing the vocals. The lap steel sound adds an almost nasal sort of cool inflection to the high end notes and the slide slips and maneuvers over the strings. The two guitars flirt with the heavens as they wail out this great tune; it is a highly charged and emotional ride. Things slow down for George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” but the emotions remain high. Jimmy Carter’s vocals are in a great praise mode and then Aubrey testifies as the Campbells continue their guitar onslaught. Marvelous! Ghent and Cooke then wail on “Sunday School Blues” as Ghent sings and growls out this piece. Then the Campbells perform a an almost mystical instrumental version of “Wade In The Water.” If God is not motivating and influencing these guys then I do not know what is because this was a truly amazing piece of work. Shemekia Copeland fronts the band and Randolph takes up the sacred steel for “Praise You.” Robert’s brother Marcus adds some cool dobro and Jason Crosby’s organ really churches this one up nicely as Robert and Shemekia both exit our Earth’s atmosphere.
Cooke fronts the Campbell’s in “It Hurts Me Too,” the classic Elmore James cut. James would appreciate how these guys handle this song as the same guys also later cover his “The Sky Is Cryin’.”James influenced all the blues rockers along with these Sacred Steel masters and these two cuts are a beautiful homage to Elmore. Ghent and Cooke sing and play “Catch That Train,” singing together and in a call and response; so simple a set of lyrics and yet such a moving piece. The Campbells manipulate the strings for the traditional “Motherless Children” as Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders sing. The guitars really steal the show from the vocals on this. Cooke does his own tune “Help Me Make It Through,” with just him playing and singing with a regular guitar and drums providing a backbeat. Extraordinary stuff; the slide and vocals trade off in fronting this. The CD closes with “No Cheap Seats In Heaven” as Ghent sings to testify behind his glorious guitar, hand claps and Lori Ghent’s and Drew Shannon’s backing vocals.
If you are new to Sacred Steel then this can serve as your primer. You can learn all about the various forms and uses of slide guitar in sacred and secular songs. Transforming the traditional, popular and church songs into whirling dervishes of superlative musical sounds where the guitar takes on a voice of it’s own. This is not the SRV or Duane Allman sort of slide work, it is Nashville and the churches of the deep South sort of slide. Randolph brings us his friends and mentors on a super album of music that will inspire the listener while also completely entertaining them. The lines of sacred and secular blur, but even the most adamant atheist will be moved in some way here. Highly recommended!
Reviewed by Steve Jones