There was a family reunion Saturday night at the Raven Room in Morristown. Marcus Randolph assembled his My Peeples Peeple band, with help from numerous kin and friends, to put on a joyous and pulsating celebration of life centered around his recent debut album, Transplant.
Anchoring the two sets over nearly two hours were Randolph, cousin Danyel Morgan (bass) and adopted cousin John Ginty (keyboards). Those three playing together was a reunion in itself, as they were on the ground floor of the groundbreaking Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Ginty estimated it had been about 15 years since they played together. (Ginty and Morgan are no longer with the Family Band; Marcus Randolph continues to play drums with Robert, his cousin.)
On this night, Marcus mostly was up front, playing pedal steel and slide guitar and handling most of the vocals. On several songs, he stepped back and went behind the kit in place of Dwayne “Duce” Snelling. Whoever was on drums was hitting it hard as he led the musical train.
Randolph came out wearing a surgeon’s mask — a reminder of his 2011 health ordeal, in which he received a transplanted kidney – as his first set kicked off with the title track to Transplant. From there, the band tore through most of the album, which was cut at Showplace Recording Studios in Dover and released in October. Transplant defies any neat, convenient label; it is a pleasing mix of heartfelt soul, funk, blues, gospel and hip-hop. And there was plenty of that on display Saturday.
Randolph sang with emotion while offering gratitude, celebration, joy and a bit of righteous anger (“Mad at the World”). To bring it all home, he made a point of recognizing his wife, Trisha, who donated the kidney.
After a break following the first set, Randolph stepped aside and let Yolanda Slocum demonstrate her considerable vocal talents on “Momma Sang,” which was sung by Sylvia Randolph (Marcus’ mother) on the album. The rest of the second set was full of throbbing jams that had the crowd of about 125 getting dance-happy feet. Highlights included an extended workout on Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” and the crowd-pleasing “Calypso,” from 2003’s Unclassified by Robert Randolph & the Family Band.
Marcus Randolph, a native of Irvington, took the time to explain the origin of his band’s name as he recalled a security guard once asking him who all the people were backstage. In reference to one group, he replied: “They’re my peeples.” And the others? “They’re my peeples peeple.”
He had plenty of his peeples with him at the Raven Room. In addition to Morgan, Randolph was joined onstage by cousins Ray Ray Holloman (lead guitar), Raykel Holloman (bass) and Walton “A.J.” Mims (vocals). Guitarist Joey Williams of The Blind Boys of Alabama came on board during the first set, and beyond the family’s Essex County roots, Mims (Willingboro) and Trenton’s Wonder (aka Brian Harris, vocals) helped make it a statewide party.
Ginty was the thread throughout the night, as his band opened with a jam-happy set of 50 minutes before he did his keyboard wizardry with My Peeples Peeple. Drummer Maurice “Moe” Watson handled the vocals for the quartet and delivered passionate singing that offered a touch of Chris Robinson of Black Crowes fame. But vocals are mostly passages that serve to connect the instrumental parts during the sprawling jams that Ginty’s group put forth.
With Watson and bassist Antar Goodwin laying down the rhythm, Ginty and guitarist Mike Buckman took turns with inventive, interwoven solos, with them and the audience bobbing their heads in time with the song. A native of Morristown now based in Bernardsville, Ginty added a bit of showmanship at the end of his set by lifting his Hammond B3 organ — think of a weighty, top-heavy piece of furniture — forward onto its two front legs.
(Ginty will be at it again March 18 at The Stanhope House, where he is to co-headline Jay’s Jersey Jams, Vol. 3 — the latest is a series of benefits for NJArts.net. The Shockenaw Mountain Boys, featuring members of Railroad Earth, also will be a co-headliner. The Porchistas, a six-piece band from Montclair, and The Outcrops, a quartet based in Sussex County, round out the lineup.)
For most of the show the decibel level — shockingly, for live music — was so high it rocked the ribcage. Is it that all soundmen are going deaf after years on the job and want everyone else to join them?
That aside, the friendly feel, cozy quarters and Edgar Allan Poe-inspired artwork the Raven Room (capacity, 200) offered the right vibe for Saturday’s celebration and family-like atmosphere.
And what a family reunion it was.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
My Peeples Peeple
“Think About It”
“She Came With Everything”
“Lift Me Up”
“Diggin Me a Hole”
“In My Heart”
“Mad at the World”
“Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley song)
“Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”/medley (Parliament-Fundadelic)
“Calypso” (Robert Randolph & the Family Band)
“63 Hog Drive”
John Ginty Band
“Seven and the Spirit”
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