Recording of July 1989: Yellow Moon

The Neville Brothers: Yellow Moon A&M CD 5240 (CD). Malcolm Burn, eng.; Daniel Lanois, prod. AAD. TT: 53:01

This hasn't happened to me in years—I'm driving to the Stereophile office, listening to my local NPR station, when, over a bed of warm, lazy synthesizer ambience, an ambisexual voice floats out the words "My name it means no-o-o-o-o-o-thing, my age it means less..." Man, that's familiar! But who's singing—Al Greene? Nah. Phoebe Snow's new album? Hmmm. Whoever, it's hypnotic, mesmerizing.

"...the country I co-o-o-o-me fro-o-o-m is called the Midwest." OK, it's a Dylan tune—well, Dylan lyrics, anyway (he borrowed the melody from "The Patriot Game," right?). "With God On Our Side"! But who the hell is that twisting my ears inside out with some of the most sensuous, passionately laid-back singing I've ever heard in my life?

By this time I'm in the Stereophile parking lot, engine off, window cranked open, radio goosed. Gail Anderson, our Business Manager, outside for a smoke, drifts over wordlessly to lean on my car door and listen. Six minutes later, as KUNM segues into another tune, we look at each other and shake our heads. Neither of us have ever heard anything like it. First thing I do when I get to my office is call the station to find out who that was. "The Neville Brothers," says the jock.

Folks, it's not too often anymore that your music editor feels he's got to have some new record; the hundreds of LPs and CDs that flow across my desk each month have kinda jaded the ol' earbuds. The Neville Brothers? Well, is my countenance crimson. Anyone who's listened to the Nevilles of New Orleans in the last 20 or 30 years could have told me that Aaron Neville was that most honeyed of throats lazing through my Justy's speakers. If I'd taken my own reviewer's—Gary Krakow's—word for it, I'd have listened to Rob Wasserman's Duets album, on which Aaron rips the soul out of "Stardust." But uh-uh. Me? All I'd ever heard was one not very good cut on a Warner Bros. sampler some 15 years ago, and the Nevilles' whole lot more impressive instrumental backup on The Wild Tchoupitoulas.

Well, Yellow Moon has changed my brain. And it's not just "With God On Our Side" (which drops two of Dylan's verses and adds one about Vietnam). There's just about everything here: two epitaphs for the late Wild Tchoupitoula George "Big Chief Jolly" Landry, one of which is a rewritten "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Aaron takes on Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" and draws tears; "Sister Rosa," about Rosa Parks, who single-handedly began the civil rights movement, is the most palatable rap tune I've ever heard, with a genuine, non-rap chorus; there's Dylan's bleakest song, "The Ballad of Hollis Brown"; and lots of gumbo-y, irresistibly danceable tunes like "Fire and Brimstone," "Voo Doo," and "Wild Injuns." And the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Brian Eno, of all people, lend their many hands.

All of which is to say, don't be like me: become Neville Brothers fans as soon as you can. Haven't heard the LP, but this AAD CD is as warm and comfy as your old porch swing, the sound rich, full, sumptuous; may Yellow Moon rise over your speakers some day soon.—Richard Lehnert