Royal Southern Brotherhood
Royal Southern Brotherhood
The Royal Gospel – Liner Notes
Released June 2016 on Ruf Records
Chemistry. You either got it or you don’t. When the five members of Royal Southern Brotherhood convened in February at Dockside Studios, Louisiana, there was magic in the air. Just seven days later, the acclaimed US soul-blues collective emerged triumphant with The Royal Gospel: the fourth album in their rocket-heeled rise and further proof of a lineup born to play together.
Enough has been said about Royal Southern Brotherhood’s illustrious backstory. Enough has been written about the critical acclaim and sell-out crowds that greeted the original lineup’s 2012 breakout. Right now, fans would rather hear about the questing new material and finger-on-pulse worldview of The Royal Gospel, released 2016 on Ruf Records. Amen to that.
Like all the best groups, Royal Southern Brotherhood have evolved. Having bonded on 2015’s Don’t Look Back, the MkII lineup of Cyril Neville (percussion/vocals), Bart Walker (guitar/vocals), Tyrone Vaughan (guitar/vocals) and Yonrico Scott (drums) have found another gear on The Royal Gospel, bolstered by new recruit Darrell Phillips (bass/vocals), plus guest B3 from Norman Caesar. “As far as the men making the music and playing the songs,” says Neville, “the mission of the band has never changed.”
Scan the credits for The Royal Gospel and you’ll recognise that while some bands operate a songwriting dictatorship, this one thrives on material penned in partnership (or even originated between three members). Neville is as prolific as you’d expect – given the fistful of projects he’s kept spinning over the decades – but so too are Walker and Vaughan, who collaborated remotely with their bandleader, trading ideas back-and-forth via the Web.
“It’s not often that you find a connection like me and Cyril,” explains Walker, whose Nashville home is some 800 miles from Neville’s base in New Orleans. “It got to the point where we were almost in each other’s heads – and we had already worked out what the other one was gonna say.”
“It’s a very spiritual thing,” agrees Neville. “I kinda laughed, because Bart was getting ahead of what I was even thinking. Last time, we actually got together in the room to do the demos. This time, it was all done by iPhone and stuff like that. But when you taste this musical gumbo, you’re gonna be very satisfied, however we approached the kitchen.”
When the band and famed producer David Z arrived at Dockside, the recording ethos was unapologetically old-school: simply cut the songs live in the room, eyeball-to-eyeball, in a minimum of takes. “We walked in not really knowing what we were gonna do,” recalls Philips. “Cyril and Bart come to us with chord progressions, tempos and ideas, and we build together. We’d just fall right into the thing and all of a sudden, there’s the song. On this record, we came together as a band. It was a magical thing to witness.”
Likewise, it’s a magical album to hear. The Royal Gospel opens in emphatic style with Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire: a stinging statement of intent co-written by Neville and Vaughan, whose hard-rock riffing is tempered by a vocal addressing a woman with “the face of an angel, a body that’s divine”. That same writing duo also strikes gold on Can’t Waste Time, its descending guitar hook fused to a lyric about a two-faced lover (“Girl, you’re like a ship without a rudder”).
Fans of the Brotherhood’s bluesier side will relish the rolling rhythms of Spirit Man, and hit repeat forI’m Comin’ Home, with its molten slide-guitar solo and travelogue lyric (“The road just goes on and on”). Elsewhere, Walker and Neville are at their soulful best on Blood Is Thicker Than Water, the veteran bandleader singing that “there’s nothing more sacred than the love of a son or daughter”, over a groove sure to shake the room as the band tour the world through 2016. “It’s extremely groove-orientated, this stuff,” nods Walker.
The Royal Gospel might move your feet, but it’s not afraid to challenge your perceptions. “The whole record is geared toward making a joyful noise,” says Neville, “but while we’re partying, we still need to be thinking about what’s going on around us. It covers what we’ve seen in our travels over the last few years, and what we’ve lived personally as citizens of the world.”
Case in point, Hooked On The Plastic is an irresistible funk workout with soul-drenched backup vocals, but also a razor-sharp critique of consumerism (“Livin’ way above your means… no end to the stream of green”). And stick around for closing track Stand Up. A joyous call-to-arms in the face of feckless modern politicians, it ends with an electrifying outro, the band building to a dizzying crescendo while Neville hollers a global message to take a stand: “Come together! Come together!”
It’s a thrilling finale to an album that cements Royal Southern Brotherhood’s reputation as a modern band to treasure. This is The Royal Gospel. Consider us converted…
Royal Southern Brotherhood
CD: The Royal Gospel
Release Date: June 2016
Something special always occurs when the members of the Royal Southern Brotherhood venture into a studio to record new material. After recording their critically acclaimed CD Don’t Look Back at the Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 2015, the current members of RSB returned to the Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana, to collaborate on the band’s most auspicious endeavor, a call to action recording.
Founding members Cyril Neville and Yonrico Scott are joined here by exciting fresh faces. This current incarnation features the double guitar attack of Bart Walker, who replaced Mike Zito in October 2014, and Tyrone Vaughan, who replaced Devon Allman in April 2015, and the band’s bassist Darryl Phillips.
Changes in essential personal would doom most bands, not this one. “Royal Southern Brotherhood has been consistently putting out good music,” says Cyril Neville, its spiritual guiding hand. “I always make the gumbo analogy that as long as the roux of the gumbo is correct, the rest of the ingredients don’t matter because the roux is what makes the gumbo.
“What is the roux of the RSB? It’s the songs. There is the musical content, the lyrical content, and what you feel your purpose is. Whatever the configuration was, as far as the men making the music and playing the songs, the mission of the band has never changed.”
For the band’s legions of fans around the world, this CD represents the birth of a bold new Royal Southern Brotherhood, a band not afraid to speak its mind with timely songs whose messages reflect the world this band sees every day.
“The title, The Royal Gospel, addresses some of the subject matter in the songs,” says Neville. “The whole record is geared towards making a joyful noise, but while we’re partying, we still need to be thinking about what’s going on around us. It covers what we’ve seen in our travels over the last few years, and what we’ve lived personally as citizens of the world. We have one song, “Stand Up,” where the basic music is Gospel revival with an everybody stand up, church feel, but the subject matter is about today.”
In addition to “Stand Up,” songs like “I’ve Seen Enough To Know,” “Land Of Broken Hearts,” “Hooked On Plastic,” “Can’t Waste Time,” “Coming Home,” “Everybody Pays Some Dues,” or Pop Staple’s “I Wonder Why” are songs written or chosen to voice the Royal Southern Brotherhood’s concerned social activism.
Scott adds, “This record had a theme that we were talking about before we did the record. They have pretty good motifs. Then we [Darrell and I] add entire shapes to the whole thing.”
Walker and Neville share writing credits on seven songs. How daunting is it to write with a socially conscience Neville? “We write from 800 miles away,” says Walker. “He’s in New Orleans, and I live in Nashville. I’ll send him ideas with four or five choices, and he’ll pick one and send me a little bit of a lyric and will bounce it back-and-forth. It’s a conversation like were in the same room together.
“There is an idea there to give us a map of where we’re going. But if you overdo the preproduction then you box out everybody’s personality,” Walker says. “Here, you get to be you. Then we joke, after the record’s done, you get to learn you.”
That same conducive vibe was evident in the studio. Bassist Darrell Phillips says of his first time in the studio with RSB. “We walked in not really knowing what we were gonna do. They [Neville and Walker] come to us with chord progressions, tempos, and ideas, and we build together. We get there and within a few bars, we would just fall right into the thing and all of a sudden, there’s the song. On this record, we came together as a band. It was a magical thing to witness.”
Cyril Neville on the vibe of the recording process. “We had seven days to do this record. The first day we recorded four songs; the second day we did five. We did the other three on the third day and also the background vocals and most of the overdubs.
“Everything was done the way I pictured it being done in Cosmo’s [Matassa] studio. For me, everything begins and ends there. If it feels like that, if it sounds like that, then we must have done it right.”
“It’s amazing to have someone like Cyril leading the band,” says Vaughan. “I played well over 100 shows with Cyril, and he’s still grinding and writing and recording and putting it out there.”
Cyril concludes, “The way we did this record is the way it was done back in the day, live in the studio, everybody eyeball to eyeball. You don’t hear take 41, maybe two takes at the most, and the gumbo is cooked.”
Art Tipaldi – Editor, Blues Music Magazine
“They are not a band – they are an extravaganza” – John Hiatt
“The music these men make together draws on their richly various experience—funk, blues, hard rock, reggae—as individual artists, but it’s blended into a single tightly focused form of timeless Southern expression known as blues-rock, and they play the living hell out of it.” – John Sinclair