The Brotherhood are back. Some might say they’ve never been away. Two years have passed since 2012’s self-titled debut album, but the genre-splicing all-star Southerners have barely paused for breath.
There’s been the roof-raising world tour, taking in twenty-plus countries. There’s been the classic Songs From The Road live album. Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and Mike Zito have all found time for critically-acclaimed solo releases, while Yonrico Scott and Charlie Wooton have lent their talents to the hottest artists around.
But heartsoulblood is the big one. The main event. The one the band describes as “the record they really wanted to make”. Released 2014 on Ruf Records, this much-anticipated second studio album is set to rubber-stamp Royal Southern Brotherhood’s reputation as the boldest creative force in the game, and give an adrenalin-shot to the band’s setlist as they scorch the tarmac this summer. “When we went into the studio on the first record, we were a bunch of musicians making a record in the studio,” says Devon Allman, “On heartsoulblood, we are a BAND.”
Heartsoulblood. The album title says it all. In a rock industry increasingly driven by sales charts and demographics, this second album is the sound of five world-class musicians following their guts and playing tug-of-war with their eclectic influences, whether that’s funk, soul, old-blues or hard-rock. This is an album made to soundtrack people’s lives.
If it ain’t broke, as they say, don’t fix it, and for heartsoulblood, the Brothers returned to the stamping-ground where it all started. Situated on the banks of the croc-infested Vermilion Bayou, Louisiana, Dockside Studios is no slick urban recording space in the style of Abbey Road or LA’s Record Plant. Despite that – or because of it – this facility has a magic in the air that has coaxed classic albums from artists including B.B. King and Derek Trucks, and also provided the backdrop to 2012’s self-titled Royal Southern Brotherhood album.
And so, reuniting with Jim Gaines – the super-producer who helmed the debut album sessions – and hot-shot engineer David Z, the band returned to Dockside in December 2013 to bottle the sequel. Not only was the spark between the five members still firing, but after two years spent bonding on the road, the interplay on these tracks is tighter and more telepathic than ever.
On duelling guitars, Devon and Mike weave stories, butt heads and raise hell, atop the thrilling rhythm bedrock of Charlie’s bass and Yonrico’s driving beats. As we’ve come to expect, the vocals tend to be a three-way split between Devon, Mike and Cyril, with the latter also supplying the percussive grooves that defy you not to move.
Some folks still call Royal Southern Brotherhood a supergroup, and perhaps that tag is inevitable, given Devon and Cyril’s backstory with the legendary Allman and Neville Brothers (not to mention Mike, Yonrico and Charlie’s solid-gold résumés). But if heartsoulblood proves anything, it’s that RSB is not five individuals jostling for supremacy, but a band in the truest sense of the word, united by their desire to give these songs wings.
Mission accomplished. While lesser artists labor over the so-called difficult second album, heartsoulblood makes it look easy, with a tracklisting that feels both hugely ambitious and wholly effortless. As you would hope from a band with no rulebook, this is an album with no limits. There are plenty of raucous moment to satisfy the rock kids hanging off the security barrier, from the uppercut slide-riff of “World Blues” and the stinging intro of “Love And Peace”, to the menacing wah lines of “Callous”.
But these harder moments are always counterbalanced with light and shade. Take the glassy funk of “Groove On”, for instance, with its quicksilver percussive guitar lick. Try the lilting soul-slowie “Shoulda Known”, and the haunted storytelling of the album’s most poignant song, “Takes A Village”. Just as memorable is “Rock ‘N’ Roll”, which spins the story of how the planet’s most popular artform was born in the US South (“Little Richard said he wasn’t quittin’ til he found him a brand-new sound…”).
Likewise, in 2014, you could say much the same about Royal Southern Brotherhood. Respectful of the music’s past, but twisting it into new shapes as they stride boldly into the future, this is one band adding to the story of rock ‘n’ roll – and heartsoulblood is the latest thrilling chapter.
1. World Blues
2. Rock And Roll
3. Groove On
4. Here It Is
7. Shoulda Known
8. Let's Ride
10. She's My Lady
11. Takes A Village
12. Love And Peace