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The Second Coming of The Word: Rockin’ gospel supergroup returns

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Would it be sacrilege to say the new album by gospel supergroup The Word is a hell of a good time?

“Soul Food,” the first offering from the occasional band in 14 years, is brimming with energy and a good-time spirit.

“We know each other so well now, that’s just what happens when we get together,” said pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph. “We sit down and start playing and all these magical things happen.”

Those magical things come from the funky mix of influences that make up The Word.

There’s Randolph with his sacred steel heritage, avant-garde jazz keyboardist John Medeski, and the southern rock and blues of the North Mississippi Allstars — Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, and Chris Chew.

“There’s something that The Word has that nothing else is and it’s worth doing,” Medeski said.

The band is known for its explosive live jam sessions.

“Soul Food” is no different. The effort is brimming with the confidence that 14 more years of experience bring.

“This time everyone’s probably played a thousand gigs,” Randolph said. “This time we went to the studio and came up with idea after idea.”

It’s a far cry from 2001 when Randolph, now 34, was a newbie in the business. He hadn’t recorded his first album with the Family Band or toured with Eric Clapton yet.

“A lot of people don’t know the history,” he said. “It was my first time doing any recording.”

Still it was groundbreaking.

The Word’s self-titled debut introduced Randolph’s sacred steel guitar work to an audience outside The House of God — the New Jersey church where he exercised his musical chops.

Back in the studio

Fourteen years is a long time between albums.

It’s not like the band members didn’t stay in touch. They’d reunite from time to time at music festivals like Bonnaroo or play some club dates. It’s just that everyone was busy with their own gigs.

But last year, the quintet decided it was time to hit the studio again. They recorded first in New York, then Memphis.

It was a productive time. The fire was lit.

“We had so much material,” Randolph said. “By the time we got to Memphis we had 14 songs and came up with 14 more there.”

It all comes down to chemistry, according to Medeski.

“It’s always a beautiful surprise when it works and the sum is greater than the parts, where it sounds like a band,” he said.

The meal

And a little good food doesn’t hurt the creative process either.

The album’s title, “Soul Food,” and two tracks by the same name were inspired by a tasty meal the band shared in Memphis.

It was an epic spread prepared by the daughters of Royal Studios founder, Willie Mitchell.

“They had cooked a big soul food spread — healthy and delicious,” Randolph recalls.

The vibe was so good, it couldn’t be wasted. Back into the studio they went.

“Next thing you know we went into a 30 minute jam that turned into ‘Soul Food’ I and II,” he said.

Medeski’s not surprised that one thing spurred the other.

“Music is one of the absolute necessities, just like food,” he said.

The band hopes listeners will find the music just as tasty.

By Ed Payne

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