For The Word, Gospel Is More About A Feeling

May 7, 2015
Originally published on May 7, 2015 7:23 pm

For some people, gospel music is all about the message — of faith and forbearance, sin and salvation. For the members of the mostly instrumental supergroup known as The Word, gospel is more about a feeling. The group's long-awaited second album, Soul Food, is a rousing, thoroughly modern take on gospel.

Robert Randolph, a leading practitioner of what's known as "sacred steel" guitar, was just beginning to perform outside of church when The Word recorded its first album in 2001. Since then, he's been bringing his unusual style of "preaching" to blues and jam-band audiences around the world. He's always thrilling, but when he plays with this crew — which includes keyboardist John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars — there's extra adrenaline on board.

The musicians involved all say that the group's blend of blues, gospel and boogie was electrifying from the first time they played together. On the new record, they tackle traditional gospel grooves, as well as seriously funky backbeats.

You can't miss the hot-wired energy in their performances: This is what can happen when everybody's pushing toward the same goal. Whether the tune is a familiar hymn or a free-form jam, the musicians are locked on to the same spirit frequency — and they're spreading The Word even when there are no words.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For some people, gospel music is about the message - faith and forbearance, sin and salvation. For the members of The Word, gospel is more about a feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WORD SONG, "EARLY IN THE MOANIN' TIME")

SIEGEL: Reviewer Tom Moon has been listening to "Soul Food," the group's second album.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WORD SONG, "EARLY IN THE MOANIN' TIME")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: When people use the phrase making the guitar talk, this is what they mean.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WORD SONG, "EARLY IN THE MOANIN' TIME")

MOON: That's Robert Randolph, a leading practitioner of what's known as sacred steel guitar. He was just beginning to perform outside of church when The Word recorded its first album in 2001. Since then, he's been bringing his unusual style of preaching to blues and jam band audiences around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WORD SONG, "EARLY IN THE MOANIN' TIME")

MOON: He's always thrilling, but when he plays with this crew, which includes keyboardist John Medeski and the North Mississippi All Stars, there's extra adrenaline on board.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WORD SONG, "PLAY ALL DAY")

MOON: The musicians involved all say that the group's blend of blues, gospel and boogie was electrifying from the very first time they played together. On the new record, they tackle traditional gospel grooves as well as seriously funky backbeats. Listen to the musical interaction that powers this New Orleans parade march.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WORD SONG, "SOUL FOOD I")

MOON: You can't miss the hotwired energy in these performances. This is what can happen when everybody's pushing towards the same goal. Whether the tune is a familiar hymn or a free-form jam, the musicians are locked onto the same spirit frequency. They're spreading the word even when there are no words.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WORD SONG, "NEW WORD ORDER")

SIEGEL: The new album from The Word is called "Soul Food." It was released this week. Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.