Over the past decade, Robert Randolph has gone from the obscurity of playing pedal steel guitar in House of God church services in his native Florida (in a style known as Sacred Steel) to being named one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time on the basis of just two albums and an amazingly rigorous touring schedule. The acclaim is clearly warranted: Randolph does things with the pedal steel that are eerily reminiscent of the Stratocaster lightning produced by Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, a sound that Randolph has applied to songs both sacred and secular.
The standard knock on Randolph has been that his relatively mannered studio recordings don’t begin to translate the heat from his incendiary live shows. Randolph’s third studio album, We Walk This Road, may not alter that perception but it’s obvious that Randolph and producer T Bone Burnett were more intent on crafting an atmosphere than addressing the ridiculous notion that Randolph’s passion seems lessened when the recording light is on. On We Walk This Road, Randolph follows his established pattern of blending hymns of praise and songs of contemporary import but, with Burnett on board, the two are threaded together with a visceral and textural intensity. Randolph’s take on Bob Dylan’s “Shot of Love” is transcendent, turning Dylan’s loping Folk Blues into a thunderous electric prayer, complete with tribal drumming from Jim Keltner, who played on the original.
Whether authentic archival songs of worship (“Travelin’ Shoes,” “If I Had My Way”), disparate modern tracks (Prince’s “Walk Don’t Walk,” John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”), or glorious originals, Randolph and Burnett have fashioned a swirling sonic aura that tributes the past and trumpets the future with power, passion and reverence.