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November 2013

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Cyril Neville
Magic Honey
Ruf Records

Cyril Neville

I've been a fan of the Neville Brothers for over a quarter century…’s hard to beat the combination of musical talents among the brothers, from Art’s deep R&B and funk roots, Charles’ serpentine jazz lyricism, and Aaron’s angelic tenor. However, Cyril Neville’s contributions to the band’s irresistible sound…..mixing funk, reggae, and soul, combined with his soulful vocals, his songwriting that covers love, politics, and faith with equal assurance, and most of all, his performances, which always exude fire and passion….is the band’s X-factor.

Over the years, I always thought he got short shrift because in recent years, most of the acclaim that the band received was due to the vocal gifts of Aaron, but the real Neville fans know and appreciate what Cyril brings to the table with the Nevilles. His tenure with them, plus his earlier work with the legendary Meters and his current membership in the supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood, marks Cyril Neville as an icon in Southern music.

Neville has released solo albums sporadically over the past couple of decades, culminating with the well-received Brand New Blues in 2009. Each has offered up a hearty mix of Crescent City-flavored R&B, blues funk, and reggae. However, with his latest release, Magic Honey (Ruf Records), Neville has struck gold with the perfect blend of blues, funk, rock, and R&B. This is a disc that will reach across the aisle to any fan of modern music.

Magic Honey has 12 songs, eight penned by Neville either solo or as a collaborator. These include the title track, a savory funky blues (peppered with harmonica work from Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone) which opens the disc. “Running Water” is another foray into funk, but Neville also rocks hard on “Invisible,” and locks into a reggae groove on “Slow Motion.” The blues is not shortchanged, however. “Blues Is The Truth” finds Neville testifying convincingly, backed by some splendid guitar from Cranston Clements.

Neville has always included his opinions on current world affairs in his songwriting and that’s present as well on Magic Honey. “Invisible” seems to take a page from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and “Money and Oil” will strike a familiar tone to those who keep up with the news.

The four cover tunes are appropriately “Nevillized.” Neville turns in a masterful vocal performance on “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” works the Paul Butterfield/Henry Glover blues/rocker “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide,” and updates the Rush (yes, Rush!) blue collar classic, “Working Man.”

Neville Brother fans will love his reworking of the Dr. John classic, “Swamp Funk,” four and a half minutes of New Orleans R&B heaven that includes keyboards from two of the city’s finest, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John himself.

Neville is surrounded by an A-team of musicians. His core group includes Clements on guitar, Carl Dufrene on bass, Norman Caesar on keys, and “Mean” Willie Green on drums, but there are also guest appearances by fellow RSB member and guitarist Mike Zito on two tracks, guitarist Walter Trout on another track, and producer David Z bends strings on one track. Neville’s wife (Gaynielle) and son (Omari) also contribute vocals, making Magic Honey a true family affair.

--- Graham Clarke
Read Graham's blog



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