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Royal Southern Brotherhood - Royal Southern Brotherhood

Ruf Records

12 tracks; 51.51 minutes

German record label boss Thomas Ruf has already established an excellent roster of contemporary blues rock artists such as Walter Trout, Ana Popovic and Oli Brown. This time he has outdone himself in securing what can only be called a new American supergroup. RSB brings together Cyril Neville (Neville Brothers, Galactic), Devon Allman (son of Gregg, Honeytribe) and Mike Zito to provide a genuine triple threat out front, backed by the rhythm section of Yonrico Scott on drums (Derek Trucks Band) and Charlie Wooton on bass (The Wood Brothers). Vocals are shared between the three front men, guitars between Allman and Zito, Neville also providing varied percussion. The CD was produced by Jim Gaines and recorded at Dockside Studios in Louisiana. This is a band with pedigree, but can it deliver the goods?

The material is mainly original, one cover sitting alongside a selection of songs written by the three front men, either alone or in combination. Of course the combo of Neville and Zito has been heard before, notably on 2010 BMA Song Of The Year “Pearl River” and the CD opens with their “New Horizon”, a statement of intent as the drums herald a heavy beat that underpins competing slide and wah-wah guitars and a lyric (sung by Neville) that suggests “We’re at the crossroads where truth and time collide; time to fall off the fence, you got to pick a side”. Following track “Fired Up!” is Neville again, this time in consort with bassist Wooton and is a contrast in pace, far more Latin in feel, an impression reinforced by Allman’s superb guitar styling so reminiscent of vintage Santana. Neville again takes the vocal lead and the rhythm section deserves special mention as Wooton’s bass bubbles along beneath the tune and the percussion combination of Neville and Scott is genuinely exciting.

Devon Allman sings his own “Left My Heart In Memphis”, a gentle song with all the players hitting top form. Mike Zito shares vocals with Neville on their “Moonlight Over The Mississippi” which is possibly the bluesiest track on the album. Insistent percussion and wah-wah guitar (Allman) underpin the song and Zito takes a strong solo in the middle. The only cover on the CD is a Grateful Dead song “Fire On The Mountain”. With lyrics by regular Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, the music is by percussionist Mickey Hart and so is ideally suited to RSB’s rhythmic approach. Neville’s voice suits the song perfectly and the guitars again do an excellent job on one of many highlights on the album. Another Zito/Neville song, “Ways About You” is sung by Zito whose anguished voice conveys the sorrow of a failed romance before Allman and Neville’s “Gotta Keep Rockin’” does exactly that, Allman leading the charge on guitar and vocals on a mid-paced rocker that reminded me at times of Neil Young at his heaviest – a classic rock song.

“Nowhere To Hide” is also Allman’s song and is a good contrast with acoustic guitar and bass providing the rhythm behind Zito’s electric slide and Allman’s lead vocal. Zito penned “Hurts My Heart”, another catchy rocker with lots of strong guitar; in another era this would have been the first single off the album! In another contrast we then get lots of percussion and slide on Neville’s “Sweet Jelly Donut” which on close inspection has nothing at all to do with breakfast treats! Cyril is a frustrated man as he explains his failure to share his girl’s ‘donut’ though it appears that other name-checked New Orleans musicians are having better luck! “All Around The World” is a typical Mike Zito song, a mid-paced rocker with a rousing chorus and strong guitars, another very strong contender for the best track on the album. The final track is “Brotherhood”, an instrumental attributed to all members of the band, very African in feel, especially the percussion and bass. The role of the two guitarists is akin to classic Allman Brothers guitar dueling, so the combination is an interesting one.

I hope that I have conveyed my enthusiasm for this project which I enjoyed hugely. This CD is not blues, but it is consistently interesting, beautifully played and recorded. Highly recommended, but not for the blues lover purists. RSB will be in Europe in November and I have already bought my ticket!.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.

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