Robert Randolph and the Family Band's first studio album in three years marks both a musical and spiritual return for the band's namesake, frontman and pedal steel guitarist.
"We're getting back to the roots of what we do," Robert Randolph said of "Lickety Split," which was released last month.
"It's high energy, and we've got some great songs and this sort of dance aspect," the Irvington native and Morristown resident said by phone. "We're feeling up and happy about life."
Randolph and the Family Band's concert Thursday in Morristown promises to be an especially festive performance of funk, soul and blues-rock jams - the hometown gig also marks Randolph's 34th birthday. "It will be really fun to hang at home," Randolph said. "The thing that I love is to bring joy to people's lives."
That's been difficult for Randolph recently. He said he experienced a rough stretch over the past few years, during which he felt pressured by industry people to go in a more commercial direction. "Lickety Split," the band's sixth album, is its first with Blue Note Records following a long stint with Warner Brothers.
"A lot of things happen when you're on the wrong label and talking to the wrong people," Randolph said.
"You get pressured into situations where people try to get you to change your music because someone else has a hit record and they want you to sound that way."
Randolph said he was reinvigorated after signing with Blue Note. The result is an album of complete exuberance, from the raucous opener, "Amped Up," to the last rollicking notes of The Rascals cover, "Good Lovin.' " The collection also features guest spots by guitarist Carlos Santana ("Brand New Wayo" and "Blacky Joe") and Trombone Shorty ("Take the Party").
The Family Band includes Randolph's sister, singer Lenesha Randolph, and their cousins, drummer Marcus Randolph and bassist Danyel Morgan. The band is rounded out by guitarist Brett Haas.
The Family Band's jubilant sound and church-revival-like live performances are the result of Randolph and his family members growing up attending lively sermons at the House of God church in Orange. The title track of "Lickety Split" originated as a church jam between Randolph and his sister.
Charter school plan
"At the beginning of our careers, all we used to do was play in church," Randolph said. "It was great to go into the archives and pull out the 'Lickety Split' jam."
Randolph, considered one of the world's preeminent pedal steel, or lap steel, guitarists, began playing as a teen and was discovered at a sacred steel performance in Florida. The horizontal instrument, which is similar to a traditional guitar, was introduced to church services in the 1930s. In February, Randolph released "The Slide Brothers," an album featuring a collection of pedal steel guitar masters.
These days Randolph is also looking to bring joy, and opportunity, to inner-city kids. He plans to open a music and arts- based charter school in or near Irvington.
"A lot of these kids that are in gangs and on the streets don't know what else is out there," Randolph said.
"There's music, art, photography, all these experiences. I understand the importance of the role music and the arts can play in your youth."
WHO: Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Big Sam's Funky Nation.
WHAT: Funk, soul and blues-rock/jam band.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday.
WHERE: Mayo Performing Arts Center, 100 South St., Morristown; 973-539-8008 or mayoarts.org.
HOW MUCH: $29 to $59.
MORE INFO: robertrandolph.net.
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