There’s some good news for Royal Southern Brotherhood fans on the band’s third studio album Don’t Look Back (Ruf Records), and that’s that the grooves here are just what we’ve come to expect from the band, despite the rather drastic change in the line-up over the past year with the departures of mid-west guitarists Mike Zito and Gregg Allman offspring Devon Allman.
Replacing them are rising star Bart Walker and another next-generation bluesman in Tyrone Vaughan, son of original The Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Jimmie Vaughan (which also makes Tyrone the nephew of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan), both solid additions to the band even though not featured to quite the same degree vocally as their predecessors, putting percussionist Cyril Neville at the mic a bit more this time around than on past projects. That of course isn’t a bad thing, as there are few in the business as smooth on vocals as Neville, but perhaps the only thing that might have made Don’t Look Back any stronger would have been to diversify the sound just a tad more by putting Walker and/or Vaughan on lead vocals for another number or two, especially hearing the richness of tunes such as the powerful opening “I Wanna Be Free” – on which the two newcomers trade vocals (along with Neville) as well as licks on guitar; the gritty, banjo-laced title track featuring Walker upfront; and the greasy, Vaughan-led “Poor Boy”.
That said, there isn’t a bad track in the bunch, with other highlights here including the stinging “Hard Blues” (co-written by album producer Tom Hambridge); an upbeat “Reach My Goal” that offers such encouraging words as “take life as it comes, just don’t sell your soul/ keep your eye on the doughnut, not on the hole” and “time is something you can’t buy, steal or borrow/ I’m livin’ every day like there’s no tomorrow”; a funky, wah-filled, New Orleans-flavored “The Big Greasy”; the swampy “Bayou Baby” that features Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie) on harmonica and background vocals; a horn-infused “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like You No More” with its superb guitar interplay; and even a few much more tender numbers like the soft R&B strains of “Better Half” penned by Neville for his wife and the closing, acoustic “Anchor Me” (co-written with Anders Osborne).
In addition to Neville, original band members Charlie Wooton (bass) and Yonrico Scott (drums, percussion) also return, joined by special guests that include Hall, a horn section, and the son of an actual brother from one of the same mothers in nephew Ivan Neville (Hammond B3, piano, and clavinet).
While it may not ever be possible for the band to top its stellar self-titled debut, Don’t Look Back certainly ranks a close second, with Walker and Vaughan serving as impressive replacements for the band’s original guitarists. Anyone who may have doubted the future of the band upon the departures of two of its founding members will be glad to hear – literally – that RSB is still one of the best bands in the contemporary blues arena.
Here’s a look at them doing a few of the songs (“I Wanna Be Free” and “Don’t Look Back”) from the new album at New Orleans’ Louisiana Music Factory this spring.