Cyril Neville was born in the “Big Easy” in 1948 and has been pedalling his brand of Southern funk & soul around the New Orleans club circuit for over 40 years. With ‘The Neville Brothers’, ‘The Meters’ and the ‘Royal Southern Brotherhood’ he has stamped out a breathtaking reputation.
He founded the New Orleans Musicians Organized (NOMO) movement – which helped musicians who needed business advice with their careers. And he has self-published several solo albums over the years. He left his beloved city after Katrina – vowing never to return.
Cyril has guested on various other artist’s recordings over the years, including on albums by Edie Brickell, Jimmy Buffett, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Daniel Lanois, Willie Nelson, Tab Benoit, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux amongst many others.
In 1974, the Rolling Stones offered ‘The Meters’ a support slot on their bands sold-out tour if only they would hire Cyril Neville to sing and front the band. It just so happened that – at this time – ‘The Meters’ were looking to expand their line-up. So they asked Cyril to join them on vocals and congas. He went on to contribute to such albums as 1972’s ‘Cabbage Alley‘ and 1975’s ‘Fire on the Bayou‘.
His work as a defender of human rights does not stray far from his art. The joys, the complications and the frustrations of growing up in the oppressed South can be heard throughout his catalogue- as a solo artist – and as well as his work with The Neville Brothers.
Cyril’s new CD, “Magic Honey” is to be released in the UK in September on Ruf Records and was produced by David Z (Buddy Guy, Neneh Cherry, Prince.) It’s full of sexual innuendo and magnificent dirty-strutting, funky blues.
The history of sexual connotation in blues music, goes right back to the roots. Singers in juke joints were often outrageous. Robert Johnson once asked a girl in a song to “Squeeze my lemon baby… ‘til the juice runs down my leg” (“Traveling Riverside Blues.”) And the listener was regularly entertained by a reliable banter of dripping honey, sweet bees, sticky sugars, floods of love, and a whole lot of ‘congregating’ that seemed to be going on. “Jelly roll” was sex – (it was also cash) – but some euphemisms were less ambiguous. Blues queen Bessie Jackson aka Lucille Bogan specialized in lewd songs. She recorded “Shave ‘Em Dry” in 1935 which – to this day – remains too rude to play (or even print) and includes lines that were a lot worse (believe me) than “I want you to grind me baby/ grind me till I cry.”
So the title track “Magic Honey” on the new album by Cyril Neville once again exclaims that proud tradition. Neville tells us all about his ‘Queen Baby’ who makes her magic honey night and day … “with honey dripping from her hive”. And when that honey drips out, it does so with a squeal of harp and a copulating rebound. The percussion (from ‘Mean’ Willie Green) begets the burning guitar (Cranston Clements) – and it all comes together in a torrent of funky fun.
‘Swamp Funk’ is just as sweaty and also full of bravado. It’s a bumpin’ dance floor number that’s set deep in the moistly tumbling Spanish moss. Fragments of keyboards (from Dr John) stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the jumping spider-claws of hooky guitar . And there is always that fibrous thickly matted voice to admire – as Neville slinks and slides in out of the oily mangrove clumps.
The story of the cuckold is explored in ‘Another Man’: “I can see you slippin’ out at night/And you know that just ain’t right.” With Allen Toussaint’s exquisite keys and a shuffle-board sliding Latin-rock vibe – this track could have easily come from Santana’s ‘Abraxas’ (1970)
The sounds are squeezed out like toothpaste on ‘Invisible’ – with a sour-cream organ and pincer-like beats. And this sets us up wonderfully for ‘Blues Is The Truth.’ “Some Blues will bring you down low/Some will take you up to the sky” he tells us. Ain’t that the truth? The vocal on this track is as clear as a Mangrove Cuckoo call in the gloom. It tastes brackish and charcoaled – like a glass of a home-produced corn whiskey – taken from the jar.
‘Running Water’ is another funky sticky dance number. Walter Trout potioned up some foaming lyrical guitar-work on this one. Then we get to some more boldly rockin’ stuff with ‘Working Man’ which has a dusty beat and a heavy buzz. The manly riffs (courtesy of Mike Zito) fizzle like corn-cobs on the griddle platter. And the vocal is volcanically hot. “Got no time for living/They call me the working man” – It’s a sentiment we can all relate to.
Zito also chugs his stuff on ‘Money and Oil’ which is pretty much a condemnation of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – and almost everything else that we have to contend with right now. It’s a distilling of that feeling we all get – of inequality and inadequacy – when we are faced – head on – with the unbridled growth of the big-bucks corporations, their avoidance of any public accountability and their pursuit of huge profits … normally at the expense of the working man / environment / health / the whole capitalist system.
This satisfying album concludes with ‘Slow Motion’ with its clear-water silvery moonlight calypso atmosphere. And lyrics about watching a splendid ‘winding body’ move itself in the radiance.
And that reminds us that this is still all about sex.
– © Neil_Mach August 2013 –
Cyril Neville and The Royal Southern Brotherhood are on tour in the UK this autumn. Check http://www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com/ for tour details.