The debut album of Royal Southern Brotherhood (Ruf Records), which hit the street on May 8, is one of the most exciting releases of the year, and that’s only slightly due to the hype that preceded it. The lion’s share of the credit flat out goes to the band, Royal Southern Brotherhood: Cyril Neville, Devon Allman , Mike Zito, Charlie Wooten and Yonrico Scott.
The Royal moniker and lineage are both a lot to live up to for a group formed barely six months ago, but RSB is a musical gestalt of sorts and their self-titled,12-track recording delivers in a big way.
Cyril Neville is a master of funk and soul, bringing with him his considerable contributions to the Meters, Soul Machine and others, including of course the iconic Neville Brothers, of which he is the youngest.
If that’s not enough royalty for you, add Devon Allmanto the mix, son of Gregg Allman, nephew of
Duane Allman and leader of his own sweetly fierce Honey Tribe. Devon brings some rockin’ guitar licks to the show, which bring to mind his legendary uncle even more so than his daddy.
Also on guitar is hard rockin’ bluesman Mike Zito, whose “Pearl River,” co-written with Cryil Neville, earned a 2009 Blues Music Award for Song of the Year.
Lest you think the rhythm section is just there to add fill, Charlie Wooten on bass and Yonrico Scott on drums are at once badass and in the pocket. Wooten is known for jamming with the Woods Brothers and his own Zydefunk, which has been called a gumbo of Louisiana grooves. Yonrico Scott earned a Grammy with the Derek Trucks Band, has played with the Allman Brothers, Col. Bruce Hampton and has his own band.
Royal Southern Brotherhood is a powerful blend of personalities and sound. The synergy between players is evidenced in every tune.
Opening track, “New Horizon,” is also the first single, released on video and all over Facebook back in March.
The in-your-face harmonies are spot on, and set the tone for the CD. The combination of Cyril’s soulful vocals, Devon’s power and the gritty appeal of Mike Zito is as good as it gets. Devon’s wailing on his Gibson. Charlie and Yonrico are laying down a groove. Great way to begin.
“Fired Up” is a Wooten/Neville composition and this band is fired up. This tune brings it on. Hard to sit still. The sweet and soulful “Left My Heart In Memphis,” penned by Devon Allman is the album’s third track, followed by “Moonlight Over the Mississippi,” written by Cyril Neville and Mike Zito. Neville’s soul-dripped vocals are a stand-out.
On “Ways About You,” written by Mike Zito and Cyril Neville, you have to appreciate the combined talent of the band – Zito’s raw bluesy vocal, the harmonies, Yonrico in the pocket, the plaintive guitar of Devon Allman all emphasize the utter sadness of the song.
The musical chemistry is so strong among this band, it’s interesting to note how they came together. It was all Reuben Williams’ idea. Reuben is the owner of Thunderbird Management Co. out of Larose, La. He had originally formed his company to manage Tab Benoit. Then came Monk Boudreaux and Anders Osborne.
In a telephone interview, Reuben told me, “I like to put people together on projects. It keeps things interesting.”
So he gets Boudreaux and Osborne to record together for Shanachie Records. Then he created the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars (his clients Benoit, Osborne and Boudreaux plus Cyril Neville and Johnny Sansone).
Mike Zito joins Reuben’s client roster, and suggests that Devon and Reuben might be a good fit. Next thing you know, Reuben is looking at this group of artists, all of whom have other groups and projects underway, and the wheels start turning. Royal Southern Brotherhood is born.
Other tracks include the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On the Mountain,” a great surprise, by the way; “Gotta Keep Rockin’,” an anthem-type Allman/Neville piece featuring Devon on lead vocal; Zito’s “Hurts My Heart,” which is a favorite of mine; “Sweet Jelly Donut” by Cyril Neville (I bet this is a great live performance); Allman’s vocal and guitar showcase “Nowhere to Hide;” “All Around the World,” written by Mike Zito; and the instrumental closer, “Brotherhood.”
Royal Southern Brotherhood is a supergroup in the making. You may not know it yet, but you want to see them live, and you want this CD. Visit their website: http://www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com and go to my blog for a recent interview with them: darielb.wordpress.com.
Tracks: New Horizon(Neville/Zito), Fired Up (Wooten/Neville), Left My Heart In Memphis (Allman), Moonlight Over the Mississippi (Zito/Neville), Fire On the Mountain (Hart/Hunter), Ways About You (Zito/Neville), Gotta Keep Rockin (Allman/Neville), Nowhere to Hide (Allman), Hurts My Heart (Zito), Sweet Jelly Donut (Neville), All Around the World (Zito), Brotherhood (Allman/Neville /Zito/ Wooton/Scott)
Album credits: Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion); Devon allman (vocals, guitar), Mike Zito (vocals, guitar), Charlie Wooten (bass guitar), Yonrico Scott (drums), Jim Gaines (producer), David Farrell (engineer), Brad Blackwood at Euphonic Masters (mastering), Thomas Ruff (executive producer), Reuben M. Williams (associate producer), Dockside Studio (recording), Jerry Moran at NativeOrleanian.com (photography).
Multi-talented S.C. musician Rick Strickland is a one-man band. To say he’s a prolific songwriter just hints at his lyrical stamina. His soulful stylings are out of this world and and – with a four-octave range – his vocals reach even further. Add to that technical savvy, masterful guitar work and a producer’s ear, and you have an inkling of what Rick brings. He can do it all, and he usually does.
That said, this new recording is a departure. It showcases the entire Rick Strickland Band. Titled
Hangin’ Out, the brand new 12-track album (released on April 20) is a collaboration of the entire group, and Rick Strickland is very much the proud papa.
“The idea was for everybody to have their fingerprints all over this. I didn’t want to get in the studio and tell them what I wanted to hear. I just gave them little acoustic guitar/voice demos and said, ‘There, do what you want with it.’ And they stepped up with ideas I would never have even thought of.
“For ‘I’d Rather Be Your Friend,’ the big ballad, my original thought was to have the band in the whole song. But Lesa suggested starting with just the guitar, then bringing her in and then the rest to build. It really makes the song.”
Lead vocalist and keyboard player Lesa Hudson, a songwriter in her own right, is also responsible for some distinctive orchestration on “I’d Rather Be Your Friend.”
Rick explains, “We’re holding these two chords and she kind of does these classical rolls through them that provide the song the tension and release that makes it interesting … Lesa has a million great moments on the CD.”
Lead vocalist and keyboard player Lesa Hudson adds, “For me, I love the harmony and Rick’s take on the harmony arrangement.”
Harmony is key to the Rick Strickland Band, both in an out of the studio. “This experience was all about the group,” Lesa continues. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t just Rick’s project, it was all about everybody.
“What sticks with me is the whole process … the talent, the people. This is my seventh CD, but the first I’ve recorded with live musicians … It really comes through in the recording.”
This is definitely a cohesive, single-minded band, but there’s room for individuals to shine, and shine they do.
Says Rick, “Don [Hamrick] really shows his butt through the whole thing, and being a drummer myself, I love it. On ‘I’d Rather Be Your Friend,’ his first entrance is the second verse, and he’s barely playing on the rim of the snare drum and just before bringing the snare in on the precourse (where 99% of dummers would do a bombastic drum fill on the toms), he instead just lightly touches on the head of the snare drum before bringing it in officially. It’s so artful and restrained.”
“Alive Til 95” is a kick-ass soul tune with lead vocals by bass player Debbie Anderson and Rick.
“I had a band called the Citizens back in ‘85. This was written for them, but I thought it was be great for Debbie to sing, and she nailed it! I had never heard her sing lead until we got into the studio … and she can nail it! To see our Cupcake sing like Mavis Staples …” Rick’s voice trails off here. He’s genuinely proud of his band mate.
That’s a running theme of our conversation, as he recounts the studio sessions, which, by the way, were executed in about three days.
“‘Gonna Come a Day’ is a sassy duet with Lesa Hudson and Rick Strickland on lead vocals.
“Lesa and I wrote that in the car on our way somewhere, to a gig, I think. We got most of it down on the way and finished the lyrics on the way back. It’s another really good example of Don’s brilliance.”
The admiration here is mutual. “It’s an honor for me to be in this band,” says drummer Don Hamrick. Words almost escape him as he tells me about the recording sessions.
“The collaboration in the studio … the intent … the chemistry … The ideas we had just meshed like a dream come true. I’ve had recordings where you spend weeks working with a click track, but this … this is real. This is us playing. What we did in the studio is exactly when we do onstage.
“Sometimes you can lose the chemistry when you try to make it too perfect … We rehearsed, but we allowed the chemistry to come through. For ‘Let’s Take Our Time,’ I was playing cajón. I thought it was a run through, but when we listened, it was right on the money.
“It’s a wonderful experience to record that quickly and still have the quality.”
Chatting with Debbie Anderson, it strikes me as ironic that the woman who can ‘sing like Mavis Staples’ is so soft spoken and shy even. She tells me that this is her first time recording instrumentation, that she’s an understated bass player; she keeps the tempo, keeps the pace. But then suddenly, she makes me laugh out loud.
“I started playing bass when my church needed a bass player,” she says. “So I put on some Lynyrd Skynyrd and taught myself.” Goes to show, you should never underestimate the shy ones.
Listen closely to “Hey What You Say.” Debbie came up with a subtle bass line that adds a lot to the song.
Keyboard player Art Benton is a session veteran. “I’ve been doing studio work sing the 60s, and it was amazing to see how this group with little studio experience ripped through everything.”
I wondered if he had a favorite tune on the Hangin’ Out CD.
“Maybe ‘Little Diva.’ Technically speaking it’s got vocals, piano part, drum track, flute, syncopated piano part all going on at once. I love it.
“It’s great to work with a drummer who can hold his meter and be colorful at the same time.”
CD credits: Rick Strickland (lead and background vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, producer, mixing); Art Benton (keyboards and accordian); Debbie Anderson (lead and background vocals); Lesa Hudson (lead and background vocals, keyboards); Don Hamrick (drums and percussion); Kevin Smith (engineer); Six+1 Studios (recording); Songwriting: All songs written by Rick Strickland except “Gonna Come a Day,” written by Rick Strickland and Lesa Hudson. CD cover design Lesa Hudson. CD cover photography Jim Allen.