Hendrix, hymns combine in funky family’s music

Dismissing Unclassified, the band's studio debut, as another preachy gospel record would be an unfortunate mistake for those uninitiated to this relative newcomer. Randolph's music certainly has a spiritual edge, but he manages to incorporate secular sounds into his music too, citing the soulful funk of Sly and the Family Stone and guitar god Jimi Hendrix as prominent influences.

Funk, hymns and Hendrix — quite a combo, isn't it?

On paper, it certainly sounds odd. Maybe even odd enough that it shouldn't be attempted.

On record, the Church of Randolph is in session and sounds stunningly right, integrating country blues and Hawaiian sounds into that already rich tapestry to produce some of the most refreshing music of 2003.

"Going In The Right Direction" gets Unclassified off to a roaring start that continues into the breakneck funk of "I Need More Love," a track that prominently displays Morgan's soaring falsetto voice, as well as the album's standout, "Nobody," a rocking gospel spiritual that serves as one of many showpieces for the band's gifted leader.

Known for their breathtaking live shows, Randolph & the Family Band (rounded out by John Ginty on organ and keyboards) manage to slow the tempo surprisingly well for the charmingly performed "Soul Refreshing," and later on "Smile," a track on which guests Lenesha Randolph and Ricky Fowler trade powerful vocals over the band's laidback instrumental groove.

Randolph and his supporting cast also have no problem whipping off blistering instrumentals. "Squeeze," album closer "Run For Your Life" and especially "Good Times (3 Stroke)," a track that kicks off with some haunting instrumental work courtesy of Randolph, all give listeners more reasons to fall in love with Unclassified.

This CD isn't perfect though. Unclassified comes about as close as a studio production can to capturing the fun and excitement seen at the band's live shows (recorded on last year's Live at the Wetlands), but it still doesn't quite match the real deal. Fond of performing extended jams in concert, Randolph and the Family Band only stretch past the five-minute mark once, and the 11-track disc clocks in at just under 48 minutes. Those are minor nitpicks, yet ones that Randolph's rapidly growing flock of adoring fans might observe.

But for those listeners who may just be getting introduced to Randolph and his trusty pedal steel, they should be too busy being wowed by what they hear on Unclassified to really care.

Grade: A