Sonoma Music - Mike Hyland

‘Brotherhood’ cooks up a tasty musical gumbo

There is a new band on the horizon that could really shake things up in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.  I can’t quite call them a super group just yet, especially since that term has been way over used since the days of Blind Faith back in 1969, but time will tell if it will apply.  At least the band, The Royal Southern Brotherhood, is off to a pretty decent start with the release of their first CD on Ruf Records, a blues label. I would hardly call them a blues band, even though the disc debuted on the Billboard Blues Chart at No. 5 this past week.

The core of the group includes Cyril Neville once a member of New Orleans’ favorite sons, The Meters, as well as the Neville Brothers on vocals and percussion; Devon Allman, oldest son of Gregg Allman on lead guitar and vocals; and award winning the blues guitarist Mike Zito also playing lead guitar and providing vocals. The group is rounded out with Charlie Wooten on bass and Yonrico Scott on drums, an incredibly solid rhythm section.

The record company blurb that leads off the groups bio states, “Before they even hit a chord, The Royal Southern Brotherhood have your attention. In the U.S. South, where music is a religion, two rock ‘n’ roll bloodlines tower above all others. In the saloon bars from Mississippi to Maryland, mere mention of the Allman Brothers and Neville Brothers casts a magic spell.  Conversation falls silent. Pool balls stop rolling.  Ten-gallon hats are tipped in respect and beer bottles raised in salute. These aren’t just bands, they’re gods, and with a lineup comprising of both Cyril Neville and Devon Allman, The Royal Southern Brotherhood come pre-loaded with expectations. Don’t worry: they can match them. The family tree might be auspicious, but his new band trades on talent, not genealogy. It’s not about rock history; it’s about the here-and-now.”

A little bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but when you listen to the music, it all begins to makes sense.  You know you are in for quite a ride when from the opening downbeat you hear drummer Scott and bassist Wooten kick things off on “New Horizons,” a pretty apt way to inaugurate the new band with a big sound.

To call these guys a blues band, even with their credits, would be a stretch considering the overall sound of the disc.  To call them a Southern rock band would be a bit of a misnomer as well.  On “Fired Up,” a song written by Wooten and Neville, the band turns toward Santana for inspiration, and comes up strong especially with Allman’s guitar work and a very tasty little drum solo by Scott that sounds to me like a nod to the great Butch Trucks.

The songwriting duties are shared by Neville, Allman, Zito and Wooten in varying combinations, with the only outside song being a reggae-ish version of the Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain,” which lopes along with a nice bit of slide guitar, sounding more like Dickey Betts than Duane Allman.  Unfortunately, the album’s credits do not list who plays what or, for that matter, who is singing lead on each track. For an important debut release, the packaging is extremely short on information.

“Ways About You,” penned by Mike Zito and Cyril Neville, and sung by Zito is a slow blues, while the Allman/Neville tune, “Gotta Keep Rockin’” sung by Allman picks up the pace a bit, again with tasty guitar licks and a lyric that states this is his time to rock, “This is my time now baby/My time to shine in the sun. I gotta keep rockin.’” Which is later followed by the spoken word lines, “I worked hard for everything I got, I gotta keep rockin,’ I just can’t stop.”

“Sweet Jelly Donut” is a soulful, New Orleans’ style romp written by Neville, that names some pretty famous Crescent City venues such as Tipitina’s, Vaughn’s, and the Bon Temps Roule as well as some of the city’s fabled musicians like Dr. John, Kermit Ruffin and Trombone Shorty, all the while chasing “that sweet jelly donut that satisfies my soul.”  A kicking rhythm section coupled with Neville’s percussion prowess makes this song pop from start to finish, not to mention the guitar work by both Allman and Zito.

The final track is an instrumental written by all five musicians and covers a lot of ground.  For my money, it may have been more advantageous to open the disc with this track rather than close it.  Producer Jim Gaines, who has worked with Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn and a host of other rock gods, produced the disc and pulled together a great sounding record, giving each player a chance to stretch out and shine.

I would be hard pressed to call this band a “second generation” rock and roll band.  There is a lot of originality in the songs as well as top flight musicianship from every member and, however they all came together, which is not well documented within the packaging, I’m glad they did.  Apparently The Royal Southern Brotherhood will be touring to support the disc and then, hopefully, back to the studio to create their next project.  It’s not often that a debut disc can push all the right buttons through each track to create a very tasty gumbo, but the RSB are seasoned enough to pull off a successful first effort and begin their journey on the rock ‘n’ roll highway. Just jump into the left lane, boys, and hit the gas, I’d say you’re on your way!

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