Faith Front & Center at New Orleans Music Festival

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 17:25

album promo image for Faith Front & Center at New Orleans Music Festival

Robert Randoph &The Family Band was among those to playat one of New Orleans' premier annual festivals. Photos by Andy Argyrakis.

By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor,

Considering New Orleans is one of this country's most treasured musical melting pots, it should come as no surprise that the annual Voodoo Music Experience boasts the best in modern rock, pop, rap, jazz, gospel, blues and a gumbo of just about everything else imaginable. Though the event's title appears somewhat ominous, rest assured there's no funny business going on – just a weekend's worth of entertainment that began the last weekend of October stretching through early November. Amidst superstar headliners like KISS and Eminem, artists with faith-based foundations revealed their spiritual sentiments.

Mute Math attack
One of the most electrifying examples came from the Crescent City's very own Mute Math, who first found fame in the Christian market, but stepped aside for a broader audience signing with Warner Brothers. The group showcased both of its full-length CDs throughout a blistering hour that emphasized the new album Armistice.

Frontman Paul Meany took the stage slapping a tambourine and looking extra Mod a la Oasis' Liam Gallagher, but by the time the rest of the band kicked into "The Nerve," it was apparent Mute Math stands in a class of its own. Though comparisons are often made to the early sounds of The Police, the ethereal undertones of Radiohead and the stadium-shaking abilities of U2, the group's sheer charisma and complexity of arrangements were entirely original.

Take for instance the percussion-infused "Backfire," which found Meany taking to the keyboard as the track exploded with militant pulsations and a provocative chorus about a season of spiritual wandering: Knives don't carry lives that vary/They're just what we fall on/Self-made coffins, scars are talking/Tell us where we are, where we are.

Themes of picking up the broken pieces continued to permeate in "Chaos," one of the group's more musically intricate jam sessions and a downright riveting display of every members' instrumental mastering.

As "Typical" blared through a football field's worth of fans, Meany took out a card from Bono's Live Aid playbook and jumped into the crowd to slap the hands of those in front.

By the time he returned to the stage he had everyone's attention, and dedicated the band's show to his recently departed grandfather. "He came and saw us every time we played here, but I know he's watching today from above," the singer shared to mounds of applause. Given Mute Math's bold displays of creativity, introspection and ability to rise to the prominent occasion, chances are Meany's grandfather would be quite proud.

Randolph's pedal steel power
Anyone who's already seen Robert Randolph & the Family Band in concert can attest to the leader's assertive pedal steel playing that's already earned props (and opening act slots) from Dave Matthews Band, Eric Clapton, Third Day and Switchfoot. He kept equally prominent company at this famed festival, headlining a side stage shared with funk legends George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, though he brought a particularly overt brand of spiritual sustenance to the environment.

After opening with a jaw-droppingly ingenious re-tweaking of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as a bluesy instrumental, the troupe turned in selections from its latest CD Colorblind, known for its gospel-like fervor crossed with blistering classic rock undertones. However, the true crest came during the praise-tipped older tune "I Need More Love," which earned an absolutely incendiary treatment and literally brought Sunday morning church straight into the heart of the mainstream scene. Faithful Randolph fans from all backgrounds can also look forward to the group's first new tune in three years called "Get There," which is currently on iTunes and will be included on a forthcoming album.

Lenny lets love rule
Though he's never been a part of the conventional Christian music scene, Lenny Kravitz has often alluded to his personal faith and peppers countless lyrics with like-minded reflections. As the finale performance of the entire weekend, he had the masses grooving to the likes of "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," a cover of The Guess Who's "American Woman," "Are You Gonna Go My Way" and "Fly Away."

While all of those tunes were inspiring simply because of their meaty riffs and surging choruses, two of the set's tunes stuck out for their no-holds-barred messages. The ballad "Believe" not only came across with free-flowing fervor, but also an incredibly redemptive declaration: The son of God is in your face/ Offering us eternal grace/If you want it you've got to believe. An extended encore of "Let Love Rule" further channeled themes of peace and unity, rounding out the entire endeavor with encouragement for all walks of life.


About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, and He's also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel's very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).

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