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Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010

Robert Randolph

We Walk This Road (Warner Bros.)

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Through three full-length releases Robert Randolph has strived, and mostly succeeded, for a seamless mash-up of gritty jam band funk, soul, blues and his own gospel roots. On We Walk This Road, though, the slide guitar guru wears those stitches on his sleeve. Six half-minute segues of archival footage break up the tracks of rearrangements and covers. From Dylan to Lennon to Prince, back to Blind Willie Johnson, much of the long, uneven album feels like the walk-through or lecture on American roots that Randolph supposedly received from new producer T Bone Burnett.

Such steady-handed tutelage can’t be all bad—just see the slinky take of “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama” or the unstoppable strut of “If I Had My Way.” And Randolph’s always-incendiary pedal steel playing—scorching, soaring, reaching, constantly professing “I Still Belong to Jesus”—is, yes, sometimes enough to tie the pastiche together. But now that he’s past the groan-inducing hippiedom of the likes of “I Need More Love” and is on to his true musical grounds, real maturity as a performer and bandleader seems, maybe, just around the corner. And that’s when things could get really interesting.