This week, Devon Allman announced he’ll be leaving Royal Southern Brotherhood. RSB is one of my favorite bands of the last few years and the second to crumble after a few short years (Black Country Communion was the other). RSB will be continuing to make music, adding Tyrone Vaughan – son of Jimmie Vaughan – to the lineup. The front line will now feature founding member Cyril Neville, Tyrone Vaughan, and Mike Zito’s replacement, Bart Walker. In light of these developments we decided to take a look at the most recent Royal Southern Brotherhood album, and the Ruf Records debut of new member Bart Walker.
Release Date June 10, 2014
Royal Southern Brotherhood was put together by Thomas Ruff of Ruf Records. His idea was to bring together members of two of the most respected musical families in the South and see if they could revive the spirit and soul of Southern music in the modern era. The main players were Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers, Devon Allman – son of Gregg Allman and leader of Honeytribe, and bluesman Mike Zito who is an old friend of Allman’s from their days working in bands and at Guitar Center in St. Louis. The rhythm section features musical titans as well. Drummer Yonrico Scott is from Derek Trucks Band, and bassist Charlie Wooton is a veteran of the Louisiana music scene and started out playing with Zydeco icon Chubby Carrier. Their debut record, the self-titled Royal Southern Brotherhood, garnered rave reviews and their following road work turned them into a formidable live band. Earlier this year Mike Zito announced his departure from RSB to focus on his solo career. This week, Devon Allman announced the same. Thus their second studio album as a unit has become this line-up’s swansong.
heartsoulblood is the name of the recent disc and it also describes the vibe of the album. It’s almost like they knew this would be it for them and they poured everything into it. The record opens with “World Blues” which is a bayou stomping, greased lightning slide-guitargasm celebrating the universality of Blues. World Blues seems to be the music they are creating as a band as well. The percussive elements are drawn all around the world. Neville and Scott are percussionistas. They weave and their parts together and their inner clocks merge into one heart that beats under all the music Royal Southern Brotherhood creates. This is clear especially in “Here It Is” which showcases Cyrille Neville’s stripped down funk. The focus is dialed in on the rhythm section and Neville’s hypnotic vocal. Bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott lock into a zesty groove and sparse guitars give the tune a lot of room to breathe.
“Rock And Roll” is a barnstorming Rock and Roll song about Rhythm & Blues. The guitar tandem of Zito & Allman blow the roof off every Chitlin circuit joint left standing from Memphis to Macon, Georgia. Devon Allman leads the group through a beautiful wall of sound called “Groove On.” The dense arrangement is so unobtrusive you almost don’t realize how much you’re hearing. This effect is expertly achieved and is a testament to the talent of the band and producer Jim Gaines. “Callous” tells how a hard life will leave a callous on your soul, over an echo drenched, clean-tone riff that sounds like a mix of Cream’s “Crossroads,” Beatles’ “Come Together” and Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” but mostly “Come Together.”
“Ritual” is a Hoodoos-and-Voodoo-on-the-bayou bit of nasty business involving a whip and a snake. This must be some kind of fertility ritual. The tune is dense as a Bitches Brew and twice as creepy, unless your motto is “Sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and snakes excite me.” “Let’s Ride” is an ode to bikers but it seems way too mellow for a Harley Rally. If you’re looking for a tune to help you relax while you’re parked at the Crazy Horse monument whilst taking a break from your trip to Sturgis, this is the one. “She’s My Lady” has some sweet soul vocals. It’s a mellow love song, with a Detroit via Nawlins vibe and some Grant Green style guitar playing. It sublimely showcases the vocal skills of the band and the signature harmonies that may be lost without Allman and Zito. Album closer “Love And Peace” seems to express the band’s motto. Even the guys who quit have proclaimed their love for the band and the individuals therein. There’s no acrimony, just well-wishing to all involved.
Like the South itself, the band has a beguiling laid back charm that draws you in with its warmth, salt water breezes, home cooking, and hospitality. Their music has a natural flow to it. It feels good to listen to this kind of music. I only hope the loss of Allman and Zito won’t change the dynamic too much. Allman provides the classic rock grit and soaring Les Pauls, and Mike Zito brings the swampy blues and fiery slide work. Both will be missed as vocalists, and if you’ve seen them live, you know their friendship and musical brotherhood ratchets up their stage presence considerably. We wish them both the best in their solo careers and we hope the Royal Southern Brotherhood continues to make engaging, positive music for years to come. We’ll always have their heartsoulblood and that alone might be enough.
Waiting On Daylight
Release Date March 12, 2013
In 2012 Bart Walker represented Nashville at the Blues Foundation’s annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Bart and his band came in second overall and he won the top guitar title. The ES-335 Gibson Custom guitar he won for his efforts appears on his latest album, Waiting On Daylight. Waiting On Daylight may not have happened if Ruf Records owner Thomas Ruff wasn’t in the audience at the IBC. Ruff signed Walker to a contract and brought him together in the studio with the legendary Jim Gaines who has produced a long line of terrific albums for musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Santana, and John Lee Hooker. Armed with a slew of songs and the guidance of a veteran like Gaines, Bart Walker has made a blistering record. This is tough, loud, gritty blues mixed with a little Nashville inflection, some hard rock drive, and down home storytelling.
“It’s All Good” opens the record in a hopeful way. The singer is content with his lot in life – maybe because he such a damned good slide player. The licks are so clean I had to rewind and see if I heard fretting in there. His intonation is sure-handed and he effortlessly mixes it up with fretted notes, not just in this song but in several on Waiting On Daylight. For instance, his slide power is all over J.B. Hutto’s “Hipshake It” which boasts a relentless riff and soaring slide licks giving the ladies all the incentive they need to shake what mama gave ‘em. “99%” is a fiery populist tune about the disparity between the haves and have-nots in our society. Walker’s playing matches the intensity of the anger and disgust felt in his vocals. “Waiting On Daylight” has soaring leads accenting Walker’s heartfelt vocals. Bart Walker is a guitar slinger and a hell of a player, but he can sing too. And not just the “somebody had to do it vocals” a lot of guitarists slip past us. Bart is a bonafide vocalist. It is an instrument he skillfully uses to present his songs.
Closing the album, Bart delivers a clever revision of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post.” Gone is the bombastic bass rumble and quick stepping rhythm. In their places are a quarter time feel with guitars playing arpeggios instead of chords under the verses. Gregg Allman did a similar reworking on his solo album Searching For Simplicity, which is an arrangement his solo band still plays. Bart Walker took it a few steps further by removing any kind of signature riff, instead focusing on the voice and the rip roaring solos he fires off seemingly effortlessly. If you’re going to cover a classic song, this is the way to do it.
In many ways, Bart Walker’s approach to “Whipping Post” is apropos of his entire approach to making music. He mixes classic ingredients from tones and lyrical themes, to song structure and guitar licks, but he makes his own recipes. His sense of dynamics, powerful but friendly voice, and endless guitar chops fortify each tune making them something more than a random mash of influences. Clocking in around 48 minutes, Waiting On Daylight leaves the scraps on the cutting room floor and delivers 100% lean and mean blues.