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You’ve heard of blueberry jams and traffic jams. Now, ladies and gentlemen, comes the gospel jam, where a handful of stellar musicians with roots in the church or the blues or the cutting edge of contemporary jazz get together and rock His house with instrumental versions of spiritual songs. That’s the idea behind a notable recent recording, “The Word” (Ropeadope Records), which features several excellent performers. First among equals is Robert Randolph, a young master of the pedal steel guitar who is devoted to playing gospel music at the House of God Pentacostal Church in Maplewood, N.J. He first came to acclaim outside the parish with “Sacred Steel” (Arhoolie Records), which captured several practitioners in the little-known House of God tradition of featuring the steel guitar — a ringing, amazingly emotive instrument associated most closely with country music. The best-known member of the band is keyboardist John Medeski, whose trio Medeski, Martin & Wood is among the most popular, and inventive, jazz acts of the day. Their many discs range from groove-heavy soul jazz sounds to unstructured stuff that descends from the free jazz of the late 1960s and early ’70s. The rest of the outfit on “The Word” are the three members of the North Mississippi Allstars, a furious blues and boogie unit with golden musical lineage: Guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer Cody Dickinson are the sons of keyboardist and producer Jim Dickinson, who has recorded with the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin and has produced records by Ry Cooder and the Replacements. Bassist Chris Chew is said to insist that the band drive all night, if necessary, to deliver him from far-flung gigs to his Baptist church on Sunday. The disc goes a long way toward showing that one needn’t hear a preacher’s words to catch the spirit. The set-opening “Joyful Sounds” has as apt a name as could be conjured. It’s uplifting and noisy as Randolph’s guitar sings high above the Allstars’ infectious, churning rhythm. Though gospel standards are on display here — “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” and Albert Brumley’s oft-recorded “I’ll Fly Away” among them — Mahalia Jackson or Edwin Hawkins are not the obvious musical links. If anything, the tunes sound more like the Grateful Dead (on a good night) or the Allman Brothers, with the collective improvisational energy building to stirring peaks. And, people, the House of God can be a funky house. Medeski’s B-3 organ drops danceable depth charges into “Waiting on My Wings,” a strutting soul groove that is easily among the best on the disc. Chew and the Dickinson brothers first made a big splash with last year’s North Mississippi Allstars debut, “Shake Hands with Shorty” (Tone-Cool), and blues hounds are looking forward to the release this week of the follow-up, “51 Phantom.” But while “Shake Hands” seemed to be a fresh spin through the familiar crossroads where blues meets rock, “51 Phantom” sounds a little too much like recordings by a lot of power trios I can remember, and a few I’d like to forget. Granted, the group displays the same remarkable drive and tightness that they did on their debut. Luther builds solos in ways that would make Duane Allman and Dickey Betts proud, particularly on one of the few covers on the new disc, a take on Junior Kimbrough’s “Lord Have Mercy.” Clearly, their inspiration still comes in part from the Mississippi Hill Country elders (R.L. Burnside, Otha Turner, the late Mr. Kimbrough), whose primal music seems to come to the digital age from a lost time in rural American life, even if folks in the Hill Country are to this very day still visiting ramshackle jukes like Kimbrough’s, drinking moonshine, dancing themselves into a trance, and waking up somewhere in the woods. But the Allstars are just louder and more prosaic this time, maybe sliding back toward the sound of the Dickinsons’ punk-funk predecessor band, D.D.T. That said, Luther’s vocals offer range and nuance — the thoughtful “Leavin’” suggests he’s got a lot more than the hoarse Stevie Ray Vaughan growl that drives many of the harder numbers. The title cut is ornery and insistent, and so are half a dozen others. But in contrast to “Po’ Black Maddie” and the other winners from “Shake Hands,” there are too many thunder chords and too much horsepower to let the music really work its magic. With a few exceptions, this disc offers little to differentiate these Mississippi homeboys from generations of British and American bands that have cranked the amps to 11 and then noodled expertly over blues changes. The Allstars have the chops, but on this disc the beauty of the blues is drowning in the mix. Bill Kisliuk is senior editor at Legal Times.

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