In the past year and a half, pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph has spent over $5,000 on iTunes. "Before this record, I didn't sift through music past the seventies," says Randolph. So he's been catching up. Guided by the legendary T Bone Burnett, Randolph mined the canon of 20th century African-American music, pulling from gospel, blues, rock and field recordings from as far back as the '20s to find inspiration for his new album, We Walk This Road, which comes out on June 22. "T Bone is a link between the past and the present," notes Randolph. "He listens to music our grandmothers would listen to as children - the music people working in the fields across the south likely sang nearly a century ago. These are the real roots of rock and roll, where everything comes from. He's opened a lot of doors for me."
Named one of the hundred greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone, Randolph has taken the pedal steel guitar far from the church services where he first heard it, playing with musicians like Eric Clapton, the Roots, and B.B. King. He's joined by Ben Harper, Leon Russell, and Doyle Bramhall II on the new album.
"T Bone and I drew a lot from the past when we were making this record, but I think it really is a record for these times. I think the fact that I, as a young guy who likes hip-hop and gospel, am reaching back into this rich history of American roots music will appeal to people who are fifteen, and people who are seventy-five years old."
For a preview of the album, hit the Fillmore on Friday night to hear Robert Randolph and the Family Band. According to the LA Times, it's a sound that narrows the distance between heaven and earth.