The last time I caught Royal Southern Brotherhood live was a pretty special event. Three of my favourite guitarists were onstage – Mike Zito, Sam Fish and Devon Allmann. All of them were missing this time around, sounds like a recipe for disaster, but don’t bet aginst the Brothers delivering. This was another hot show at the Harmonie.
Truthfully, you know a band that loses such great axemen as Allmann and Zito is going to survive pretty well when you hear that a replacement has the surname Vaughan (and is actually nephew of the legendary Stevie Ray). You also might have caught the other newcomer on lead guitar Bart Walker on a previous Blues Caravan show so you know too that things are in pretty safe hands. There’s also another new face on six string guitar in the shape of Daryll Phillips only his are bass strings. A pretty seismic change then personnel wise – can the songs truly remain the same?
When the brothers hit the stage and immediately hit a groove it’s evident that things can indeed remain the same. Maybe even be better?
Co founder Cyrille Neville didn’t think the changes were too dramatic. He likened it in an interview to making Gumbo – as long as the ‘roux’ of the gumbo is correct then the rest of the ingredients don’t matter.
The ‘roux’ is certainly correct tonight. I’m standing right in front of Neville’s timpani and the beat is already reaching the ends of my toes. there’s a brightly painted tambourine attached to Neville’s kit on the floor and I can see that the metal wheels on it are moving just from the stage vibrations alone. If ever a band stood or fell by it’s rhythm section then this is the band.
There’s no question of it falling of course. Neville is a master at Carribean rhythms and behind him Yonrico Scott is one of Rock’s best and most sought after drummers. Signing autographs later Scott replies to a fans asking if he remembers a particular show by saying he does over 300 shows a year, he doesn’t remember them so much as count them. “It might as easily be behind Derek (Trucks) or Aretha (Franklin) as he casually mentions. If you’ve regularly visited concerts over the last ten years then you’ve probably seen, and loved hearing, Yonrico Scott.
The drummer has to fit together with the bassman of course and new bassman Daryll Phillips has the mighty shoes of Charlie Wooton to fill. He does so with ease, and leaves the impresion that he was always the bass player in the band.
The guitarists styles are chalk and cheese but somehow it works wonderfully. Bart Walker with that fat Gibson sound is especially memorable on numbers where Neville invites us to visit New Orleans. Close your eyes and Walker’s blowing on a horn rather than picking on a string. On ‘Fire on the Mountain’ Walker delivers a gorgeous funky wah wah sound, bending his hips to take solo in Rock guitar style. On the other stage side Tyrone Vaughan’s Bleached blue Fender Strat remains permanently perpendicular. Tyrone Vaughan’s expression changes as little as his guitar’s position. He’s not there to be flash but to play music. When it’s good he allows himself a little smile – he has reason to smile quite often tonight.
Heart and soul of the Brotherhood of course is Cyrille Neville and aside from his seismic presence in front of me on the rhythm he is one heck of a vocalist too. His intonation is always spot on with the beat, which is really the centre of this band’s special quality. You can’t fake a sparkle in the eyes and Neville has it in abundance during the show.
Can the band get any better than this? Well, according to both Scott and Neville they can indeed. “We’re not allowed to play anything from the upcoming disc live yet because of YouTube videos – they’d have it all online and that would spoil it when the disc comes out” he says in a tone that suggests he can’t wait to introduce ‘The Royal Gospel’ to fans around the world. On the evidence of this evenings show I can’t wait to hear it either.