Ruf Records, 2013
Cyril Neville became a household name (in hip households, anyway) as a member of The Meters and the youngest Neville Brother. More recently, the singer-percussionist has enjoyed popularity with Galactic and the all-star R&B/rock ensemble, Royal Southern Brotherhood. Neville’s latest solo album, Magic Honey, is naturally heavy on the sounds of his native New Orleans, with elements of rock, blues, and soul seasoning the funky roux.
The title track, a bluesy stomp outlined by Cranston Clements’s crisp guitars and the superbad tandem of Carl Dufrene (bass) and “Mean” Willie Green (whose daredevil drum fills on this song alone are worth the price of admission), splits the difference between Howlin’ Wolf and Junior Wells in full James Brown mode. (If the brash harmonica player is named, I apologize: I can’t find the credit.) The lyric, delivered with gusto by Neville, extends the sexually charged King Bee/Little Queen Bee metaphors popularized by Slim Harpo. “Blues Is The Truth,” an uptown blues ballad with a serpentine bass line and a dark undercurrent, is another bluesy highlight.
“Swamp Funk” updates creamy, ‘70s-style New Orleans syncopation, and features two of that city’s preeminent musical products: its composer Dr. John (organ) and Allen Toussaint (piano). “Funky butt is what they want,” indeed! “Another Man” brings back the funk, with Neville’s percussion and Toussaint’s piano suggesting Caribbean undertones and Clements’s guitar break developing a singing, Santana-esque tone.
But many of the album’s funky cuts have a hard, contemporary edge. Paul Butterfield’s “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide” gets an angular interpretation with another showy Clements solo, and Walter Trout’s sputtering guitar lead fits his “Running Water” like a glove. “Working Man,” with RSB bandmate Mike Zito on guitar, is rocked up so that it barely resembles Otis Rush’s original recording, yet retains its appeal through the wah, distortion, and flash. Zito also guests on “Money And Oil,” a simple, riff-based song predicated on an insistently pounding bass line and the guitars’ funky scratch and whining slide.
Other songs step outside the Magic Honey formula with varying degrees of success. Where Eugene Gales’s Zeppelin-esque “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” a slow, heavy blues rocker, seems out of place, the slightly faster “Still Going Down Today” is softened agreeably by a slinkier groove, dramatic chorus, and soulful touches. Warren Haynes’s “Invisible” is excellent, sparse deep funk, pointing up the interplay between Norman Caesar’s organ and the rhythm section. And “Slow Motion” not only captures a sunny island mood, it is keenly aware that melodic American soul music was a dominant influence on Jamaican ska and reggae. It is a fitting closer to a strong, wide-ranging record from Cyril Neville, one of the funkiest humans on the planet, and a son of America’s most musically cosmopolitan city.
I received this CD for review from Mark Pucci Media.