Album review: CYRIL NEVILLE – Magic Honey

Ruf [Release date 10.09.13] 

And finally it’s Cyril Neville’s turn!  ‘Magic Honey’ may have been released in the slipstream of his Royal Southern Brotherhood partners, but if feels more like the final part of an interlinked triumvirate rather than a separate release.

If Devon Allman’s ‘Turquoise’ album confirmed his Latino rock influences, and Mike Zito’s ‘Gone To Texas’ cemented his Americana instincts, then Cyril Neville once again provides the soulful funk filling for several deep grooves and some unexpected brusque blues-rock.

‘Magic Honey’ extends his smouldering, sticky, southern fried funky take on blues, soul and rock to the Caribbean end-piece of ‘Slow Motion’. It’s essentially a vocal led and guitar driven album that is rooted in New Orleans, but organic enough to push the songs into new territories that reflect an impressive guest list including Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Mike Zito and Walter Trout.

And while the material draws on a couple of self penned songs, 5 co-writes and an unexpected dip into Chicago blues via Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield, drummer ‘Mean’ Willie Green ensures that the grooves are never less than fat and the rockier tracks are nailed down tight.

The fact that the album is a collaborative affair is the key to its success and the ‘live in the studio’ feel allows Cyril to imbue the 12 tracks with his career influences from The Meters and The Neville Brothers to The Royal Southern Brotherhood.

He’s always one step ahead of a New Orleans sober dirge, moving from his early funky career antecedents into a multi genre delight. Everything comes together beautifully on ‘Another Man’, which he wrote with his partner Gaynielle.

Cyril’s emotive phrasing evokes the role of a cuckolded narrator as Alan Toussaint tinkles the ivories and Cranston Clements adds steely licks. The intuitive Latin tinged ensemble playing is further mirrored by Cranston’s Santana influenced solo.

The impressive Neville/Zito penned ‘Still Going Down Today’ provides another slice of soulful rock-blues, with Cranston employing a bigger tone in keeping with the heavier arrangement, as Cyril phrases passionately.

The title track provides a strand of continuity with the mothership Royal Southern Brotherhood, taking over from where the lascivious ‘Sweet Jelly Donut’ left off. The integral funky undertow is amplified three fold on ‘Swamp Funk’, a Dr John slice of New Orleans alligator funk, which Cyril makes his own.

You can just imagine Mac Rebennack’s exaggerated growl and deliberate phrasing, but he contents himself with some funky organ stabs, as Cyril wraps his own mellifluous phrasing round the exaggerated beat and Norman Caesar provides the perfect piano fills.

The unexpected sledgehammer blues of ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’ comes as a shock and is much a vehicle for producer David Z’s mighty chops as for Cyril’s fine vocals. Written by Hendrix disciple Eugene Gales, it gives the album an unexpected lift and also showcases his rhythm section’s flexibility, as the band slips from funk to big arena rock in the blink of an eye.

The bristling ‘Running Water’ finds the song’s co-writer Walter Trout laying down a funky accompanying guitar work out and a brief but explosive solo, as Cyril emotes expansively: ‘what goes around gonna come around, lord knows its true, everything you do baby, is gonna come right back on you’ . It’s a great song that only suffers from a sudden fade out that might have you checking your volume dial.

A couple of well chosen covers include an up tempo and funky rework of Paul Butterfield’s ‘You Can Run But You Can’t Hide’ and a tough rocking arrangement of the Mike Bloomfield/Nick Gravenites penned ‘Working Man’.

The latter song’s sentiments still ring as true now as when Otis Rush first voiced them 44 years ago. Zito adds searing guitar and alongside another peerless vocal from Cyril.

The same Neville/Zito combination sparkles as the politics switches from the personal to the macro and Zito slips and slides all over the uncompromising lyrics of ‘Money & Oil’.

The album is built on the same consistent foundations that have given Cyril Neville such an enduring career. Feel and a groove are always paramount and he tackles a wide range of styles that once given the Neville vocal gloss are transformed into something special and uniquely his own.

This is blues tinged funky soul for the modern era. Cyril revels with his band and strikes the perfect balance between his role as a song writer and an interpretative singer.

‘Magic Honey’ bottles all that is great about Cyril Neville, the essential piece in the jigsaw that makes both this album and Royal Southern Brotherhood better than the rest.  ****½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 1 August 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week and an interview with “metal queen” Lee Aaron.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 7 September 2021.

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