The new album from Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Brighter Days, out Aug. 23, is as different as it is familiar.
The 10-song set, which Billboard exclusively premieres today (Aug. 22), is steeped in the Pentecostal church sound where the group came from nearly 20 years ago. Brighter Days finds the troupe going outside of the family to work with a new producer, Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell), record in a new locale in Nashville, and make the album in an entirely different manner than it’s worked before.
“I had written so many songs for that style of record,” Randolph tells Billboard, “but once we got in the studio we actually recorded the first song, ‘Baptise Me’, and as it went on we wrote the record and recorded it all in one there, just creating on the floor. It’s very organic but very real at the same time. It was like this exciting roller coaster ride.”
In Cobb, Randolph adds, he and the Family Band had a perfect cohort, albeit unwittingly. “I really had no idea that he himself grew up in the Pentecostal church in Georgia,” the sacred steel master says. “[Cobb] points a lot of his success to that. He’s not into trying to make something that sounds like whatever’s on the radio. He’s like, ‘Look, let’s take these elements and write good songs and have ’em sound really good and timeless.’ That’s what we set out to do, together, and he really knew how to put it all together.”
Brighter Days starts out in church, with four barn-burners including “Baptise Me,” “Simple Man,” “Cry Over Me” and “Second Hand Man,” which takes the band back to its roots after the expansions and experimentations of recent albums such as Lickety Split and Got Soul. “Have Mercy,” meanwhile, hails from the early part of the decade, when Randolph was doing some work with Carlos Santana, but was dramatically retooled for Brighter Days. The more secular material captures a sacred kind of joy that the band wanted to convey.
“Looking at all the stuff going on in the news and around the world, we wanted to give people something that would uplift their spirits,” explains Randolph, whose next round of tour dates begins Aug. 24 at the Paolo Roots Festival in Kansas and heads well into the fall. “There’s so many depressed people living in the world today, so many people on depression meds, all these commercials. For me the cure for that is bringing joy to people’s lives, letting them know we’re all here for each other. Not in some boring way, just some real soul, and without picking political sides and all that kind of stuff.”
Nevertheless, Randolph acknowledges that he can feel “a lot of people are ready for a change — a majority of this country is ready for…not even a change, just ready for the next step. For me as a musician and having the roots in gospel music, it’s like, ‘Look, let’s do something that lifts people up and makes them want to do something positive.”
Listen to Robert Randolph & The Family Band’s Brighter Days in its entirety below.