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ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD Royal Southern Brotherhood RUF 1180 (2012)

Royal Southern Brotherhood

Something is stirring in the south as soul music has gradually been finding its way back into popularity. It's running through the veins of jammers and blues practitioners like Warren Haynes and JJ Grey and Mofro and now it's being given a new found contemporaneity by the Royal Southern Brotherhood.

Guitarist Mike Zito had already collaborated with former Meters and Neville Brothers mainstay Cyril Neville on the title track of his own 'Pearl River' album, so the rest naturally fell into place. He hooked up with old tour circuit pal Devon Allman and then with the primo rhythm section of ace jammer Charlie Wooten on bass and Yonrico Scott (Derek Trucks/Allman Brothers) on drums, who provide the essential dirt in the tracks and mellifluous grooves. Not so much a supergroup perhaps, as a musical brotherhood, or as Devon has called it 'amplified soul for the new generation'.

The band's three conceptual corner stones gives you all the relevant clues, with Royal representing the band's musical heritage, Southern being the geographic cultural reference point and Society the collective celebration of a rootsy musical style and all round optimism.

It's a band that is big on feel, elementally tied to grooves and conjoined by songs that bring out the best of all the individuals for the collective good. It's an unashamedly old school project on which the quintet play together in the studio, soak up the New Orleans influences, toss around some ideas, lay down the essential back beat, add some magical harmony vocals and work the songs under the watchful eye of veteran producer Jim Gaines.

'New Horizons' is the perfect lead in track, full of sumptuous harmonies with optimistic lyrics about finding a new consensus. It's a theme that crosses over into the music itself, as this is a band routed in soul, blues, funk and even reggae. Listen to Cyril's percussion and vocals on a cover of The Dead's 'Fire On The Mountain' as the band stretch out but never over extend a solo or push the groove too far. If this is a jam band then they break new ground.

RSB lean into several beautifully crafted grooves that are given their shape by drummer Yonrico Scott, but never once betray their sense of coherence. It's an album with great songs and it's the way they are stretched and imbued with an integral soulful feel, harmonic colours and subtle tones that sets the Royal Southern Brotherhood apart from their peers.

The band's strengths are eloquently set out on 'New Horizons' as the vocal triumvirate provide the best possible context for Neville's soulful phrasing, Allman's rich baritone and Zito gritty vocals. It's the perfect meeting of like minded individuals who don't allow ego to stand in the way of a mellow vibe and shared goals as they allow the song to breathe through a mix of inspired interplay and a de facto collective feel.

You can occasionally hear the influences of Santana and Allman senior on tracks like 'Fire on the Mountain' and the aptly titled band composition and instrumental 'Brotherhood', which is led by Cyril's intricate percussion and underpinned by a Soca beat.

The really great thing about this record is the way each member steps up to the plate with Devon Allman in particular being a vocal tour de force, delivering powerful phrasing over dreamy guitar lines on his self penned 'Left My Heart in Memphis', before the band shift their focus to Mississippi on the funky Zito/Neville composition 'Moonlight over the Mississippi'. It's full of Cyril's crisp percussion and soulful vocals and features a contrasting funky rhythm and strident lead guitar lines from Zito and DA.

'Ways About You' showcases Zito gritty vocals on an emotive ballad with brief unison guitars, while Allman and Neville collaborate on 'Gotta Keep Rockin', which works towards a big chorus with a repeated chanted refrain 'Don't Give Up'. The album offers stylistic twists and turns, finding its way via the dobro led slice of slide inflected cool on 'Nowhere To Hide', while Mike Zito's self explanatory 'Hurts My Heart' throws off the shackles and rocks from the heart.

And Cyril brings it all back to New Orleans on 'Sweet Jelly Donut', full of treacle thick rhythms, slide and lead guitar, a well judged 'call and response' vocal section and some a cool lyrics; 'Well I took her out on Thursday to see Kermit down at Vaughn's, Well Lordy Lordy in walks Trombone Shorty and yeah the girl was gone'.

Zito adds a slow building soulful groove on 'All Around The World' as he swaps verses with Devon and adds a perfect a cappella finish, before the band sign off with the 'Brotherhood' instrumental. And yeah, this is a band that lives up to its name with plenty of feel, spark, soul and great songs that smoulder, flicker and finally burst into flame. The self titled album is both an introduction to a great band and a potential catalyst to a soulful renaissance. Go and buy.


Review by Pete Feenstra

Devon Allman interview (June 2012)


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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