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Cyril Neville - The Essential Cyril Neville 1994-2007

MC Records

11 tracks

Total time: 57:13

Cyril Neville, youngest of New Orleans’ famed Neville Brothers musical family, stunned the blues world in 2009 with the release of his CD, Brand New Blues, on roots/blues MC Records, a solidly original and funky approach to the blues. The Essential Cyril Neville 1994-2007, continues that same approach, with 11 varied tracks that are a rich jambalaya of New Orleans musical textures. All but one of the tracks were previously recorded on Cyril Neville’s small-label solo releases, The Fire This Time (1995), New Orleans Cookin’ (2000), Soulo (2000), and the no longer available Healing Dance and Just for the Funk of It. The previously-unreleased track is the opening track here, “The Blues Is Here To Stay,” with guest Taj Mahal. In addition to producing The Essential Cyril Neville, Cyril was also instrumental in selecting the tracksfor a rich Louisiana gumbo of musical approaches.

Cyril Neville is also an African American left political and social justice activist, which is also integral to his music, giving much of it an insistent but unobtrusive left political message that only complements, not distract from, his musical artistry. Cyril Neville is an artist with much to say who says it well, both in needed political tocsins for our troubled times, and through compelling musical artistry that partakes substantively from both his New Orleans and African American heritages.

The Essential Cyril Neville is a CD comprised of many different styles and genres. Funked-up approaches to blues and rock grace the first two tracks, the above-mentioned “The Blues Is Here To Stay,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.” This incorporation of funk elements into these two other genres not only gives the music a more contemporary feel, it also enhances them strikingly through the creative originality of the approach, complementing the blues roots of the first track in a refreshing way that also maintains fealty to those blues roots; with that same fealty to Hendrix’s original arrangement refreshingly complemented as well by the novel funk styling. The third track, Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina,” is introduced by Neville as a tribute to this great artist that’s “takin’ his music into the New Millennium.” It does so by rendering it as an impassioned blues-rock number with strong horns, a solid piano solo, and Neville’s own enthusiastic blues-shouting vocals.

Track 4, “Ayita,” another term for Haiti, celebrates the splendor of the Haitian setting and the struggle of the Haitian people for freedom and democracy through a bouncy, horn-driven Caribbean/Latin tune that takes from Haitian music itself as it came to New Orleans, while track 5, “New Orleans Cookin’,” is New Orleans 1950s-style R&B with double-entendre lyrics that compare his woman’s love and feminine attributes to the tasty zest of the Crescent City’s famous cuisine. Track 6, “Fortune Teller,” is a live version of the Benny Spellman song written by Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym Naomi Neville that’s done here as a long, slow soul ballad with Toussaint on piano, and is one of Cyril Neville’s finest vocal performances on the CD. Track 7, “Indians Got That Fire,” is a rollicking celebration of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tribes and their dancing displays during this festival that’s replete with the Black Seminole’s Big Chief Iron Horse giving forth with braggadocio chant.

Cyril “goes to church” on track 8, rendering Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’” as a reverential hymn that insistently cries out for social justice; while track 8, “Projects,” is an affirmatively African American rap song that’s also a political tocsin calling for solidarity that says that it doesn’t matter where you grow up, i.e., in the low-income housing projects, it matters what you do with it. These messages are repeated and emphasized again on the last track, “Funkalicious,” that combines both traditional and rap vocals in another political tocsin for self-empowerment through believing in oneself and not giving up. Sandwiched in-between is track 10, “Heart’s Desire,” a soul ballad duet with wife Gaynelle Neville that affirms finding love through going beneath the surface and seeing the real person buried under the social slight, dismissal and rejection.

Truly as varied a selection of tracks on a CD as one’s likely to find, especially on one that’s only 11 tracks long. Cyril Neville is indeed one of the masterful stylists of soul and soul-blues, ranking him among the male greats such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Otis Clay. Excellent musicianship and backing choral work throughout is provided not only by Neville’s staple band, but by many other musicians and special guests as well.

Summing up, The Essential Cyril Neville is just a very, very good CD that far transcends being any sort of “Greatest Hits” compendium.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy. 

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