Friday, December 27, 2013

Cyril Neville's Not So Magic Honey

Cyril Neville's new recording Magic Honey (Ruf Records) under his own name is one that will certainly appeal to many with its mix of New Orleans grooves, funk and blues-rock. His first album for Ruf has him backed by Cranston Clements on guitar, "Mean" Willie Green on drums, Carl Dufrene on bass, Norman Caesar on keyboards with Cyril on percussion as well as singing. Making appearances here on selected tracks are Allen Toussaint and Dr. John on keyboards, and guitarists Mike Zito (a fellow member of the Royal Southern Brotherhood), David Z (who produced this) and Walter Trout, with backing vocals from his wife Gaynielle and son Onari. 

For these ears, this release is a mixed bag. The title track certainly opens this music on a strong note with its tough, strutting groove and a terrific vocal about his queen bee who drips her honey on him with some fine, uncredited harmonica in the backing. Its followed by a terrific piece of New Orleans funk on Dr. John's Swamp Funk, (on which Dr, John is on organ and Allen Toussaint on piano) that could have been from three decades ago. However the following track, "Something's Got a Hold On Me, is a heavy handed blues-rock performance that perhaps is tightly played but the backing (including David Z's guitar solo) will sound to many as way over-the-top. The latin-flavored Another Man (co-penned with his wife) is an appealing song that will evoke Santana's bluesier recordings including Clements spicy guitar. 

Still Going Down Today, that Mike Zito co-wrote with Neville, is one of several topical lyrics on this and followed by a cover of Paul Butterfield and Henry Glover's You Can Run But You Can't Hide. The blues-rock backing perhaps contributed to neither performance standing out to these ears. I found the rendition of Warren Haynes Invisible catching my attention with Neville singing about acting as if he was invisible to those around him because of race or class. Blues Is The Truth is an original blues about what the blues is and sometimes the down home blues can heal the pain. There is some intense singing although the backing would have benefited from more nuanced guitar.

Walter Trout co-wrote Running Water, with a relaxed, funky groove and a very clever lyric, with Trout providing the effective guitar pyrotechnics on a short guitar break as well as responding to Neville's vocals during the song's coda. Otis Rush's original recording of Working Man was originally done as a Stax oriented R&B performance on Rush's Cotillion album that Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites produced. Neville's vocal fronts a heavy metal blues-rock jam. The closing Slow Motion, is an infectious with its steady rocking reggae groove and the more supple backing.

As the comments above suggest, this listener found "Magic Honey" to be a mixed bag of performances with first-rate tracks mixed in with others that did not stand out (and a couple tracks were forgettable). I recognize that there are fans of album rock and blues-rock who will differ with that opinion, and may you enjoy this. 

I received this from a publicist. A few years ago, I was quite a bit more positive regarding Cyril's Brand New Blues on M.C. Records. I note that it is a Blues Music Award nominee for Contemporary Blues Album.  From this recording, here is Cyril doing Working Man.

No comments: