They may not have all been born in the South, but the talents that comprise the Royal Southern Brotherhood were raised on a steady diet of Memphis and Muscle Shoals soul, New Orleans funk, and Mississippi Delta blues. When a chance meeting in the Crescent City brought together New Orleans music legend Cyril Neville with fiery guitarist Devon Allman (son of Gregg Allman) and soul-blues songwriter and guitarist Mike Zito, the core of the band was formed.
The trio added bassist Charlie Wooten (Zydefunk) and drummer Yonrico Scott (Derek Trucks Band) – as fierce a rhythm section as you'll find in the blues today – and after a few friendly, informal jam sessions, a musical chemistry was formed. A handful of low-key live performances further honed the band's sound, and thus the Royal Southern Brotherhood was formed. Songwriting ensued, sessions were held in the studio, and a record was released, followed by a tour that has helped make Royal Southern Brotherhood one of the hottest blues-rock bands on the blues circuit in 2012.
Royal Southern Brotherhood's Royal Southern Brotherhood
While some writers have criticized Royal Southern Brotherhood, the band's debut album, for what it isn't, I'd personally prefer to laud it for what it is. No band's musical chemistry is carved in stone from day one, and there's no substitute for the seemingly endless roadwork that builds a fan base and sharpens a band's sound to a deadly edge. Royal Southern Brotherhood is no different, and the album succeeds on the strength of the artists involved, but it is what it is – and what it is, to these ears, is a very good debut album by a group of talented musicians. RSB has a pair of strong songwriters in Neville and Zito, who together won a 2010 Blues Music Award for "Song of the Year." Allman is no slouch in this department, either, growing as a songwriter to match his spectacular six-string skills.
As such, Royal Southern Brotherhood offers up some stellar moments, as well as some more mundane performances, but the end result is all good. The album opens with the fiery "New Horizon," a timely blues-tinged rocker penned by Zito and Neville offering positive lyrics that preach "choose peace over politics," Neville's soulful vocals backed by a muscular rhythm and a chorus with gang harmonies that reminds of Quicksilver Messenger Service. The dueling guitars three minutes in are a bonus, a short shock to the system to drive the point home, leading to a big finish. By contrast, the Latin-tinged "Fired Up!" is a simple love song pumped up by the imaginative percussion provided by Wooten and Scott, the two guitarists adding spicy licks here and there, the song seemingly tailor-made for live performance.
Moonlight Over Mississippi
Another Zito/Neville composition, "Moonlight Over Mississippi," lays down a slippery, funky groove fat enough to drive a truck through, Neville's smooth vocals riding waves of rhythm as Zito and Allman embellish the tune with bolts of livewire guitar. A reggae-styled cover of the Grateful Dead's "Fire On The Mountain" will certainly appeal to the jam-band crowd, Wooten and Scott delivering a perfectly-syncopated groove atop which Neville's smoky vocals surf, the percussion accompanied by scraps of serpentine guitar which are threaded throughout the rhythm.
The ballad "Ways About You" is fraught with heartbreak, composed in a classic Neville Brothers vein and delivered with bittersweet pathos as the guitars weep and moan in the background. Allman's "Nowhere To Hide" rubs a little Delta grit into the grooves, with somber vocals wrapped around some nasty slide-guitar playing reminiscent of Devon's uncle Duane Allman in its spirit and energy. The spotlight is on Mike Zito for "Hurts My Heart," and his soulful vocals on the socially-conscious lyrics are peppered with stinging fretwork that rings loudly above the song's solid percussion. The album closes with the short, but lively instrumental "Brotherhood," the band showing off its musical chops with an electric Latin-flavored jam that brings together elements of Santana, the Allman Brothers Band, and New Orleans' jazz-funk pranksters Galactic.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Royal Southern Brotherhood is an entertaining album that has already had a major impact on the contemporary blues scene. While time will tell if the egos of the talents involved will allow for future collaboration – and at this point, there's no sign that it won't happen – the three major players in RSB all have thriving solo careers to attend.
Nobody expects RSB to follow the prolific path blazed by Joe Bonamassa and Black Country Communion, releasing a new album every year. But, given the band's recent experience on the road together, and with maybe a little more time to develop and incubate new songs for the studio, a second Royal Southern Brotherhood album has the promise to exceed the expectations set by the encouraging, highly-rocking performances found on this exciting debut. (Ruf Records, released May 8, 2012)
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