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For The Word, Gospel Is More About A Feeling

On The Word's new album, <em>Soul Food</em>, the group tackles traditional gospel grooves and seriously funky backbeats.
Jay Adkins
Courtesy of the artist
On The Word's new album, Soul Food, the group tackles traditional gospel grooves and seriously funky backbeats.

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.

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Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.