Cyril Neville Cooks Up a Mojo Musical Gumbo on "Magic Honey"
Ruf Records announces a September 10 release date for Magic Honey, the new album (and first solo outing for the label) from Grammy-winning singer/percussionist Cyril Neville. On the new CD, Cyril steps outside his Royal Southern Brotherhood membership to create a dazzling roots musical gumbo that stirs the pot with many flavors. Produced by David Z (Prince, Etta James, Buddy Guy) and recorded at Studio in the Country in Bogalusa, Louisiana, Magic Honey delivers an amazing amalgam of sounds, all tethered to Cyril’s most-soulful of vocals, and backed by an all-star band that includes Cranston Clements – guitar; “Mean” Willie Green – drums; Carl Dufrene – bass; and Norman Caesar – keyboards. And if that’s not enough, joining in on the fun as special guests are two roots music icons - Allen Toussaint and Dr. John – on piano and organ respectively, plus fellow Royal Southern Brotherhood bandmate Mike Zito and Walter Trout on guitars.
Cyril also makes the recording a true family affair with the addition of his wife, Gaynielle, and son, Omari, providing a special dash of spice on backup vocals. There’s also a sprinkle of celebrity stardust, with New Orleans veteran Allen Toussaint handling the keys on the cuckolded shuffle of “Another Man,” Dr. John on organ for “Swamp Funk,” ex-Bluesbreakers axeman Walter Trout boiling up “Running Water” and Mike Zito lending muscular riffing to “Money and Oil” and “Working Man.”
“Making this record was a spiritual, musical event,” says Neville about the sessions. “The musicians and I approached it like it was an important gig we were playing. All the tracks are first takes. The atmosphere was just that electric. All the way live! I waited a long time to work with David Z and I feel the wait was well worth it. I love how the record turned out. I was blessed with the best rhythm section for the occasion in ‘Mean’ Willie Green, Cranston Clements, Carl Dufrene and Norman Caesar. And blessed again with the presence of two of my mentors and heroes: Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. I'm extremely proud of this record. It's a tasteful, well-cooked musical gumbo that I think will be pleasing to the musical palates of most music lovers.”
As in any great gumbo – musical or otherwise – Cyril Neville blends many ingredients to create a signature sonic dish that draws from a wellspring of blues, soul, funk, rock and world music, adds some heat to the mix and stirs it up to a beautiful boil. The even-dozen tracks on Magic Honey showcase an incredibly talented songwriter bringing his words to life with a mystical, spiritual honesty and simplicity that transcends any musical categories.
Cyril might have one foot planted in the traditions of the blues, such as the raw emotion on “Something’s Got a Hold of Me” or the slow-burning “Blues Is the Truth,” but the other is striding out and kicking the rulebook aside. There’s the spring-heeled, funk-flavored strut of “Running Water,” the snare-cracking groove of “Invisible” and the stinging title track (“My baby is a queen bee… magic honey dripping from her hive”). Then there’s the amped-up socio-political sideswipe of “Money and Oil” (“Don’t matter how you feel, it’s all sell, sell, sell”) and the album’s most overt rocker, “Working Man” (“Got no time for living, ’cause I’m working all the time…”). By the time you reach the silver-tongued reggae of “Slow Motion” and the irresistible dance floor-filler that is “Swamp Funk,” you’ll be reminded that Cyril is a songwriter who combines a clear artistic vision with a wandering eye.
At age 64, Cyril Neville has amassed a creatively varied resume during his four-plus decades in the music industry. Born in late-’40s New Orleans as the youngest of the four siblings who would soon define that city’s R&B sound as The Neville Brothers, Cyril absorbed his parents’ vinyl collection and found his own voice when he turned professional at 19. His first gig was with Art Neville and the Neville Sounds (alongside elder brothers Art and Aaron), and though his subsequent splinter-group Soul Machine never quite achieved the heights it was due, Cyril was on fire, pricking up ears with 1970’s debut solo single, “Gossip,” then arriving in the lineup of Art’s funk outfit, The Meters.
By that point, The Meters were already flying with the release of their 1969 smash-hit, “Cissy Strut.” Cyril added his congas and vocals to the mix on such landmark albums as 1972’s Cabbage Alley and 1975’s Fire On The Bayou, and when unabashed über-fan Mick Jagger invited The Meters to open up the Rolling Stones’ U.S. stadium tour of 1974, Art’s suggestion that Cyril take lead vocals was vindicated by a series of roof-raising performances.
When The Meters dissolved in 1976, it cleared the path for the bloodline to regroup as The Neville Brothers and start a four-decade hot-streak – from 1976’s Wild Tchoupitoulas, through 1989’s Grammy-winning Yellow Moon, to 2004’s Walkin’ in the Shadows of Life – that continues to this day. When critics refer to the Nevilles as New Orleans’ first family of funk, it’s not hyperbole but a statement of fact.
Even with all the success of The Neville Brothers, Cyril remains an artist in constant creative motion, always seeking a new groove and ways to paint musical pictures with his sound. He not only maintains a thrilling solo career that’s given us classics like 1994’s The Fire This Time and 2000’s New Orleans Cookin’, but has also collaborated with icons including Bob Dylan, Bono and Willie Nelson, toured the world with funk act Galactic, led his offshoot band Tribe 13, founded his own record label, Endangered Species, and made TV appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and HBO’s Treme. In 2010, he co-wrote the title-track for Mike Zito’s Pearl River album, which won the Blues Music Award as “Song of Year.” And in 2012, he, along with Devon Allman, Mike Zito, Charlie Wooton and Yonrico Scott formed Royal Southern Brotherhood, a supergroup that promptly took the world by storm and earned a Blues Music Award nomination for their self-titled debut CD on Ruf Records.
An artist with an environmental and social conscience, Cyril has also spread good karma, both through the New Orleans Musicians Organized (NOMO) project that helps fledgling bands navigate the rock industry, and alongside Tab Benoit on the 2005 Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars tour that raised the profile of the Louisiana Gulf Coast’s environmental plight.