In a recent interview, Cyril Neville told me that when Royal Southern Brotherhood first assembled, they were a group of five strangers put together by their shared management. Two years later, the group on RSB’s second studio album, Heartsoulblood, is now a family bound together by the common experiences they’ve shared on the road touring in over 20 countries. Ironically, Neville was once the youngest member of the Neville Brothers. Now, he’s the senior player in RSB, which is quite a role reversal.
This isn’t to say Neville is the leader of the band. One of the characteristics of RSB is, Neville says, just how ego-less this so-called supergroup is. Along with Neville on vocals and percussion, RSB boasts two hot guitarists, Devon Allman and Mike Zito, supported by bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott. A quick look over of the song credits reveals all five are integral to the songwriting process as well as being performers. In fact, Neville said many of the tracks on Heartsoulblood were built on bits tried out on the road during soundchecks and then developed in the studio.
But beyond the gumbo of musical talent and the shared depth of influences and experiences, what distinguishes RSB from many other ensembles is that it has something to say. In Neville’s words, their lyrics try to be “pertinent” and address universal human concerns.
For example, the album opens with the percussive “World Blues,” a number about how everyone has the blues, a message delivered with good old-fashioned swamp guitar. Neville’s “Callous” is an echo of Cream’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” groove where Neville traces the history of the Civil Rights movement with verses about Medger Evans, Martin Luther King, Jr., and finally pointing to the conclusion we’re still waiting for justice and truth.
Don’t misunderstand. Heartsoulblood is chock-full of material that is fun for the band to play and very danceable for the audience to hear. For example, Neville’s “Rock and Roll” is all about how R&B was the foundation for its child, rock and roll. “Ritual” is even more down and dirty, with Neville singing “Bring out the whip, bring out the snake, bring out your love.”
Naturally, RSB touches many Southern-fried bases. “Groove On” opens with a soulful funk bass line, then wraps up with a guitar jam including the lyrics that inspired the album’s title, “my heart, my soul, my blood.” “That’s what we give the folks every night,” Neville claims, “our hearts, souls, blood.”
“Here It Is” is even funkier and Allman’s “Shoulda Known” is pure Memphis soul with nice touches of acoustic guitar pickin’. Lest you forget about sweet love songs with polished harmonies, “She’s My Lady” is smooth ’70s R&B. It’s very reminiscent of a long prospering band called The Neville Brothers. Longtime Neville fans might even think of his first major band, The Meters.
The final cuts pull the album’s themes together, as with “Trapped,” a standout track with time for stretched out guitar leads that incorporate all the musical ingredients showcased throughout the collection. Zito’s “Takes a Village” is a slow Gospel message about raising children well, with rough harmonies supported by deep Delta slide guitar. Finally, the album’s closer, “Love and Peace,” reminds us we need to have love to have peace and vice versa.
Recording at Dockside Studios in Louisiana, RSB again chose producer Jim Gaines to helm the proceedings. With his credentials, he can almost be considered the sixth member of the band. That’s just in the studio, of course. If RSB isn’t coming to your town, you can get a very good sample of their roadwork on the CD and DVD Songs from the Road: Live in Germany. However, this release was captured before Heartsoulblood was recorded, so none of the new songs are on it. But those old tunes—old by only two years—are well worth your time as the short RSB catalog is quickly becoming essential listening. Groove on, guys.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00JZ4XC0W][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00G75BLMI]