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The Neville Brothers: Yellow Moon  E-mail
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Tuesday, 07 February 2006 00:45
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Yellow Moon
The Neville Brothers
Produced by Daniel Lanois
A&M SP 5240

By John Sinclair


The mid-March release of the new Neville Brothers album, Yellow Moon, touched off something of an explosion in pop music circles, and the shock waves seem to be spreading farther and farther outward from the Bros' Crescent City epicenter.

Cleanly, soulfully and very sympathetically produced for the Nevilles by first-rank hit-maker Daniel Lanois--whose name seems always now to carry the inevitable predicate, U2, Peter Gabriel --Yellow Moon is exactly the Neville Brothers recording their fanatical following has been waiting for ever since the group was formed in 1977.

Yellow Moon has it all: great new original songs, including tunes that can be played on pop radio; brilliant, true-to-life production that brings out the best in the Brothers' idiosyncratic musical attack and leaves out everything else; first-rate performances by vocalists Aaron, Cyril and Art Neville and their perfectly attuned rhythm section (Brian Stoltz, guitar, Austin Tony  Hall, bass and Willie Green, drums); terrific arrangements, with the swinging gentlemen of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band addling their horns and head charts to the alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones of the extremely soulful Charles Neville.

There's also the intelligently committed promotional support from A&M Records, including Jonathon Demme videos for each single release taken from the album, and the high-powered, totally-connected professional management of the Bill Graham organization, which now has, with Yellow Moon, the product it needs to put the Nevllle Brothers over the top and into the eyes and ears of pop music consumers from coast to coast.

Well, it's been a long time coming,  as Aaron croons here with such conviction on the Sam Cooke classic, A Change Is Gonna Come,  and while one hates to start counting those little chickens before they get all the way out of the egg, the initial sales and airplay response to the new Nevilles album provides ample proof that the much-anticipated bell is indeed about to start ringing for the long-suffering Brothers and their equally die-hard fans. Their dues card is punched all the way around all four edges, and never has a band been more deserving of gigantic pop success than these grizzled veterans of the rock & roll wars who have somehow hung on long enough to still be in there for the kill.

In recent years it's often seemed that the Neville Brothers had, to paraphrase the well-known epithet, the hopes and dreams of a city resting on the shoulders of one band. While all of musical New Orleans pulled for the Brothers to bust out of minor local/regional stardom into the big time for real, the Nevilles' eagerness to get over by any means necessary served instead to prevent them from attaining the massive success they seemed so desperately to desire.

A broken string of listenable but commercially failed albums (The Neville Brothers, Fiyo On the Bayou, Neville-ization) for a succession of labels large and small (Warner Bros, A&M, BlackTop) was released at three-year intervals, culminating in the deplorably unlistenable Uptown LP for EMI in 1987, which realized the completely unreasonable feat of making the Neville Brothers sound like...well, anybody.

Now comes Yellow Moon, a musical tour-de-force which is as personal and moving a record as one may wish to hear these days. In every way the complete antithesis of the Uptown collection, Yellow Moon is indelibly colored with the unique collective personality of these musical sons of New Orleans--Cyril's fiery radical humanism and gritty vocal delivery, Art's unfailing taste and drive, Charles' intense spirituality and deep musical sophistication, and the incomparably soulful warbling of the magnificent Aaron Neville, who shines throughout like a big full yellow moon throbbing against the sky.

From My Blood,  Cyril's opening prayer seeking the benevolent intercession of Jah in the affairs of all the people of the African diaspora as well as the natives of the American continents, all the way through the final cut, a fantastic Mardi Gras jam which salutes by name the many mighty tribes of the Crescent City's Wild Injuns,  Yellow Moon brings it all back home at last to finally achieve the universality and staying power which characterizes all the great music of New Orleans.

It's impossible to pick a favorite cut here--every selection is almost perfectly realized, and there's not a low point to be found. Yellow Moon is one of those rare LPs that can be played over and over again without ennui or fatigue setting in, creating in the listener an unslakable thirst to hear the thing unfold song by song just one more time.

Aaron's balladic wizardry is heard to full effect on A Change Is Gonna Come  and Bob Dylan's With God on Our Side,  but he also scores with two cooking original compositions, the plaintive title track and the burbling, iconic instant classic Voo Doo. 

Yet it is Aaron's impassioned reading of another Dylan masterpiece, The Ballad of Hollis Brown,  set against a menacing bass line and the impeccably tasteful slide guitar of Brian Stoltz, that pushes this set over the line into the rarified company of those records which must be classified as simply indispensable.

Art Neville's harrowingly convincing lead vocal on an obscure, truly dangerous Llnk Wray number, Fire and Brimstone,  reminds us that Art's been an extremely hlp singer for, oh, some 35 years now, as his several numbers - Mardi Gras Mambo,  Cha Dooky Doo,  Zing Zing  and All These Things --on the Rhino Records Neville Brothers anthology, Treacherous, continue to attest.

Charles gets a feature spot on a beautiful arrangement of an African ritual song called Healing Chant,  insinuating his saxophone through a haze of ghostly vocal effects to achieve a soothing, deeply pleasing release at just the right spot in the program.

It is the four Cyril Neville compositions, however, which lend Yellow Moon its deepest shine. Less pop tunes than investigatlve poetry of the highest order, these works pin down the bottom line of the Neville Brothers' rhythm artistry and present their passionate social and spiritual concerns with magnificent force.

My Blood  and the nearly irresistible call to the sleeping citizenry, Wake Up  (with a thrilling backing vocal part by Art Neville), are two sides of a single sermon dedicated to seeking a solution to the ills of our seriously twisted social system. Both are delivered with an urgency and somewhat insane optimism which is driven home by the unstoppable musical thrust of the Neville Brothers band, the mighty Uptown Rulers of world renown.

Sister Rosa,  the first single to be released from the LP, is a tribute to the great Rosa Parks, the woman who refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, setting off the modern-day civil rights movement on December 1, 1955 and providing the opening through which the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. could begin to shine his incredible light on the lives of his fellow Americans.

Presented in semi-rap style by Cyril Neville, Sister Rosa  puts across a much-needed message to music listeners of today, reminding us that the personal courage and daring of principled individuals at the appropriate time can bring about social and political changes previously almost unimaginable.

The last cut on the LP, the jubilant Wild Injuns,  welds the two major powers of New Orleans' music of the streets--the brass marching bands and the Mardi Gras Indians--into an exuberant whole, with Cyril's vocal line echoing the poetic form and lusty delivery of the great singing Wild Indian leaders now represented most forcefully by this reporter's own Big Chief, Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias.

One expects to hear the Neville Brothers' Wild Injuns  blasting from every funky jukebox in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day from 1990 till the end of time, taking its place in the immortal rotation with Jock-A-Mo,  Mardi Gras Mambo,  Go to the Mardi Gras,  Carnival Time,  Iko Iko,  Big Chief,  Street Parade,  It Ain't My Fault,  Second Line,  Pass the Hatchet,  Handa Wanda  and My Darlin' New Orleans. 

This is Yellow Moon by the Neville Brothers of New Orleans and, as the beboppers would put it, This is the shit.  Better pick up two or three copies today--you're going to need them.


--Detroit
1989



(c) 1989, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.


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