They call it the "sacred steel" tradition - the House of God's decades-old ritual of using pedal-steel guitar in church services - and there isn't a more prodigious practitioner than Robert Randolph.
The Jersey-born picker is part pugilist, part preacher, passionately playing his instrument as if it's a matter life and death. And maybe it is: Growing up near Newark, N.J., Randolph saw a lot of bad stuff on the city streets. Thus, his tent-revival jams, especially must-have rousers Going in the Right Direction and I Need More Love from the 2003 album Unclassified, are informed by sin and salvation.
By the way, that album title, Unclassified, is just about right. Funk, rock, R&B, blues: The man loves it all. And just because the pedal steel is a sit-down instrument, don't expect RR to stay stationary. He'll be kicking out his bench and playing that sucker behind his head before you know it.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band, with the Black Crowes and Drive-By Truckers, play at 7 p.m. Friday at Ford Amphitheatre, Interstate 4 at U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $22-$49.50.
- SEAN DALY, Times pop music critic