I debated whether or not to include today’s album, “Live On Planet Earth” by the Neville Brothers. I have already discussed a live album from the early 1980s at Tipitina’s, and their best studio recording, “Yellow Moon”. However, as I spent more than a decade searching for their best live recordings, when they released this album in 1994, it became a major part of my musical rotation for many years to come. As I have noted before, the Neville Brothers are one of my all-time favorite bands, and an act I have seen more than any other, and while their studio work rarely captured the magic of their live sound, this record came closer than any formal release they ever put out to re-creating the experience I knew first-hand so well. As such, I chose to include it, as it has just been too big a part of my life to leave out.
The album was actually taken from a live performance in Israel, but it is a classic Nevilles set that could have been heard anywhere around the world. The record opens with the New Orleans classic “Shake Your Tambourine”, followed by the soulful and funky version of Aaron Neville singing “Voodoo”. “The Dealer” and “Junk Man” are both long-time Neville Brother classics from their nights at Tip’s, and then they go into some of their more recent studio recordings with “Brother Jake”, “Sister Rosa”, and a really strong live version of another amazing Aaron Neville track, “Yellow Moon”.
Like every Neville Brothers show, there is one instrumental sax song led by Charles Neville. On this one, they play “Her African Eyes”, which is not a favorite of mine. It sounds more like a TV theme song and lacks the classic Nevilles mystical sound, but nonetheless, it is still the horn-man himself, which makes it worth a listen.
Like a good live show, the set really picks up momentum in the second half, and the rest of this album is just insanely good. Charles wrote “Sands of Time”, which is a blistering live track with Cyril Neville on lead vocals. Another New Orleans standard emerges on “Congo Square”, featuring Mean Willie Green on drums and the percussive explosion that is the rhythm section and any of the brothers who have free hands adding drums, cowbells, maracas, and rhythm sticks. The rhythmic kaleidoscope of sound is just too much to believe until you hear and see it in person.
The night only gets hotter with a medley cover of “Love the One You’re With” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Over the years, the Neville Brothers performed with both Stephen Stills and the Rolling Stones, so these songs were natural fits and like “Congo Square”, this time with Poppa Funk Art Neville on lead vocals, the drive of the rhythm section dominates the groove.
We get another medley cover with “Let My People Go” and “Get Up Stand Up”, naturally with the reggae vibe dropped by Cyril with passion and intensity. The Neville Brothers spoke for all injustice, having experienced more than their share of it growing up as black men in the deep south. However, as the set almost spilled over with this fury, just as they always did later in their career, they closed the set by bringing us all back together. The encore would open with Aaron singing “Amazing Grace” as only he could, and as we all tried to hold it together, they would close the show in uniting spirit with the medley of “One Love” and “People Get Ready”.
Although the Neville family has been grossly underappreciated by the mass media markets in the music industry, they are one of the greatest success stories in American music history. Their spirit carries on today through the band of their children, “Dumpstaphunk”, which features Tony Hall on bass, just like he was here on “Live On Planet Earth”. My life will forever be better for the many nights I spent in concert with this amazing family and their band, and I’m glad I have albums like these to remember the moment as long as I can.