When keyboardist John Medeski (Medeski, Martin, and Wood), pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, and The North Mississippi All Stars get in a room to record, they clearly have a kick-ass time together. Reunited as The Word for their first studio release since 2001, Soul Food showcases the masters of their respective craft. The five unite in a cohesive slam-fest of shrieking guitars, organs, and percussion bordering somewhere between gospel, funk, and soul.
In 2000, the three members of the North Mississippi All Stars, Chris Chew (bass), Cody Dickinson (drums, washboard), and Luther Dickinson (guitars), along with John Medeski, wanted to explore their mutual interest in Sacred Steel gospel music. Learning about the soulful gospel style from compilation discs, they were particularly fond of one track, “Without God.” The song was credited to an unknown guitarist, Robert Randolph, who was recruited for The Word, and subsequently launched into the jam scene.
The five join forces once again on their newest release, and first in fourteen years, Soul Food. Released on May 4th, you can stream the whole thing, in full, below:
Unlike their debut album, Soul Food features vocal contributions throughout, including two tracks (“When I See The Blood” and “Glory, Glory”) with female vocal contributions from Ruthie Helm and Grace Foster. These two songs only add power to an already-dynamic effort.
The LP is a powerhouse of collective knowledge and strength, exhibiting each member’s skill throughout the thirteen tracks. The album’s first four cuts are blistering jams that invite you to join the proverbial Pentecostal alter and celebrate alongside them. Then comes the title track, “Soul Food I,” a mellow, almost classic Hawaiian serenade that morphs into a tender funk love ballad. Later, “Soul Food II” continues the album’s arc, livening the listener with banging organs and crafty finger work from each and every musician. It’s a perfect blend of skill, suavity and soul satisfaction.
Robert Randolph, John Medeski, and The Allstars stand out as mountains among men. Soul Food is a powerful listen, with these five greats coming together again for their second incarnation of The Word. Their sound is unique, even to the world of gospel, and their energy and positivity radiate thoroughly from their souls to God’s ears. Luckily we’re able to ride the notes of their celebratory soul sensation.