Refurbished Royal Southern Brotherhood Sound As Good As New
There is always something very special about a Mark 2. Always the model where the architects have moved on from the previous edition, but not yet at the stage where they have gutted out everything that made it great. One may say it is the second edition which takes it to legendary status.
Who remembers the Mk 2 Ford Fiesta? What a weapon that was. Here at the Blue Cafe we fondly remember the Mk 2 Volkswagen Golf, long before VW decided to get too clever. In fact, we would even fancy ourselves one day to pick up (what will almost certainly be a ‘classic’) a Mk 2 Porsche Boxster. Let me stop waffling and allow me introduce the Mk 2 Royal Southern Brotherhood and their new album The Royal Gospel.
It must be difficult to gather some pace in a blues-rock supergroup, particularly given that supergroups rarely work. It is even more of a challenge when two of your big boys call it quits. Smart money would have been on the rest of the group to call it a day, and that is exactly what we all thought might happen when Mike Zito departed in 2014, and then Devon Allman announced he would be following in early 2015. But the exact opposite happened, the boys were quick to recruit and replace the electric duo that had departed in no time at all.
New Guitarists For A New Direction
2015’s Don’t Look Back was an easy start to a new adventure, but here we are in 2016 with another new serving of RSB. We have been lucky enough to get our hands on The Royal Gospel due for release on Ruf Records on June 24th. We have to say – it is a hell of a lot funkier than we’ve heard before. We just want to go and grab our old Chic LPs out of the cupboard – tonight! We just can’t remember where we left them.
Ripping the guitar spine from a band is always going to give a change of direction, but this is something special. RSB have demonstrated they are under no duress to release random shit to stay relevant. RSB are putting out a statement of intent, laying the foundations of a band that wants to leave a musical legacy.
So we keep talking of personnel changes – who have we got? Well the energetic, new-look RSB still has the core rhythm section from Mk 1: Cyril Neville (Percussion/Vocals), Darrel Phillips (Bass Guitar/Backing Vocals) and Yonrico Scott (drums/percussion). They have been joined by Bart Walker (Guitars/Vocals) who has previously worked with Reese Wynans and Tyrone Vaughan (Electric Guitar/Vocals), the son of the legendary Jimmie Vaughan. Norman Caesar (Hammond B3) also features on the record to add a few more layers to their diverse sound.
This refurbished crowd are intent on taking RSB to new levels, which they more than hint at throughout this record.
Royal Southern Funk
For all I’ve been saying about it being loaded with funk, you may be a bit disappointed in the album opener. Well we’re not. With a crash and a thud, the whole band are in on the act from the first seconds of the album. On the rocky opener Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire the vocals “when there’s a will, there’s a way” suggest it may have been one hell of a fight getting to this point for the band. The heavy guitars’ only lay-off is when they briefly slow down to give the vocals more prominence on the verses. For the rest of the near 5-minute track they are either soloing, crashing or generally being used in the most appropriate way possible to lay a marker for the next 56 minutes of your life.
I’m not normally talking about my favourite tracks so early in album – they usually slowly grow on me. But I make an exception for their second track I’ve Seen Enough To Know. This is where the guitars begin to unleash the funk, they make the drums and bass sound like they are labouring to carry the track. But of course they’re not. A cracking slow track so early on that rumbles along for 5 minutes, with vocals that sound like a man coming to the end of a journey, not embarking on one. Hey – there’s no ‘run of the mill’ about this outfit this time round.
Finding their groove in their funkier sound, the next track Blood Is Thicker Than Water continues in the same vein. Again, with all the fuss in the last couple years with the departure and recruitment of the group’s guitarists, the unsung heroes here are the rhythm section. The bass is bubbly and the drums are punchy – like a perfect Friday night beer in my eyes. The followup I Wonder Why goes slower once again, heavily adopting a southern gospel vibe. Lots of twanging guitars, lots of backing vocals, lots of mellow vibes and again lots of rumbling bass.
Heading Back To Blues-Rock
I’m Comin Home the album’s fifth track starts the ascension of rock vibes once again on the album. Still containing funky guitars but happy to have a clash of guitars on the chorus. Before Everybody Pays Some Dues has a neat rocky bassline alongside Cyril’s cultured vocals. The slowest track on the album Face Of Love is almost a moment of respite on this twelve-track, hour-spanning collection.
Things quickly hot up again for my favourite part of the second half of the album. Land Of Broken Hearts has the guitar layers, bass and Hammond working in perfect song, the chorus crashes and squeals, the riff grows on you throughout. This one I would love to see live (hint, hint RSB management). Spirit Man is a thudding bluesy track, with lovely solos and a cute riff.
Hooked On The Plastic leads us back to their new funk-gospel style once again, before the penultimate Can’t Waste Time slowly winds the album down. The final track Stand Up is a riffy call to arms giving the album an adequate end with nice solos. The album is wrapped up, signed, sealed and delivered, albeit in a less intense fashion than expected, in just under and hour.
Need I give my verdict? I’ve been a fan of this crowd since day one, we loved their first, self-titled album and we’ve praised everything up to their latest Don’t Look Back with their new incarnation. The Royal Gospel is another massive leap forward, from an outfit that 18 months ago would have been trying to convince you that they were not taking a step backwards.
Leaping from the sparse but brutal and riffy chorus tracks, to the frequent, rhythmic and funky tones of some of their slower tracks, the album is a journey – for us and them.
Whether or not Royal Southern Brotherhood venture to the UK this year or the next remains to seen. But on the strength of this latest effort lots of UK blues fans will want to catch the new lineup in the flesh. Until then, pair this with a good whisky and repeat throughout the night.