Royal Southern Brotherhood – The Royal Gospel (2016)

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Cyril Neville’s Royal Southern Brotherhood, Mk II rolls right along with their second album in as many years. The Royal Gospel (Ruf Records) portrays a roots rock band where the guitarists added to replace heavyweights Mike Zito and Devon Allman are becoming more than an even swap; the Brotherhood is exceeding expectations.

Hashed out live over a single week at the Cajun rustic Dockside Studios out in Maurice, Louisiana and overseen by top drawer producer David Z, The Royal Gospel was cooked up too quickly for the emotions to get baked out of final product. Before they convened in the studio, though, Neville spent some face time (and FaceTime) with his new guitarists Bart Walker and Tyrone Vaughan, who are composing and singing threats, too. With them along with some outside help from friends to write the material, the Brotherhood came to Maurice armed with a set of originals that’s democracy on display under Neville’s Nawlins blues banner.

Neville and Vaughan collaborated on the hard rockin’ “Where’s There’s Smoke There’s Fire,” which exploits a legitimate two-guitar attack. There’s a certain energy that can only be had from playing together in the same room and you can clearly pick that up right from this lead-off track. Vaughan also got together with Neville to also contribute another love-gone-wrong tune, the deliciously funky “Can’t Waste Time.”

Bassist Darrell Phillips is the newest member of the group replacing Charlie Wooten and he gets his groove going in perfect sync with founding drummer Yonrico Scott on “I’ve Seen Enough To Know.” Norman Caesar is also on board as an unofficial member to lend an Hammond organ that bolsters the soul element that’s found in anything Neville is involved with.

The temperature ranges from the smoldering slide guitar of “I’m Comin’ Home” to the acoustic guitar-anchored “Face Of Love,” seemingly a long lost Isley Brothers ballad. But if there’s a calling card to The Royal Gospel, it’s speaking truth to power through the social activism of lyrics that rest on equally powerful melodies and the passionate playing you can only capture in the first take or two.

Many of those type of songs came from Neville’s songwriting collaborations with Walker. Their “Hooked On The Plastic” is a funky way to rail against excessive consumerism, with Neville and Walker trading stanzas. “Everybody Pays Some Dues” is a cool rewrite of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Wall of Desire,” and the handclapping call to action “Stand Up” featuring smoldering back-and-forth guitar licks between Walker and Vaughan is built to fire up a crowd.

Even when the two turn to other topics, such as the unshakable bond of family in “Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” they can still make a tune compelling, in this case the one-two vocal lead punch of Neville and Walker on top of Neville’s and Scott’s tough ‘n’ tight percussion and a little Allmans-styled guitar harmonizing.

Four LPs in, it’s safe to assume that Cyril Neville has a deep, long-term commitment with his latest project the Royal Southern Brotherhood. And when Cyril Neville is committed, deeply soulful creole roots rock of the best kind inevitably follows. The Royal Gospel should be eliciting a lot of ‘hosannas’ in response.

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