After decades as cult musicians, New Orleans's Neville Brothers spent the '90s solidifying their position as a minor American institution. Torchbearers for both tight, lean funk (Art and Cyril were key players in the profoundly influential '70s combo the Meters) and soul-gripping balladry (Aaron scored a 1966 No. 2 hit with "Tell It Like It Is" before resurfacing as a solo and group star in the late '80s), the Neville Brothers band has found a diverse audience with open ears for its message of rhythm and community.
Before that happened, though, the brothers lived thug life as hard as Tupac Shakur ever did. Open the first two-thirds of this oral history to any random page, and you'll find rhapsodies about musicians as far afield as Professor Longhair, Ellis Marsalis, and Billy Stewart--or something quite a bit darker, like Cyril's remembrance of a near deadly razor fight: "I'm bleeding like a hog.... [T]hey needed 180 stitches to sew my neck together... [and] some Demerol to get me even higher and let me go back to the gig--the same night--where I carried on, singing 'Cold Sweat' and 'Heard It Through the Grapevine' as though the shit had never happened." Vividly told by the Nevilles and smartly organized by Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye biographer David Ritz, this is a resounding look at how these musicians put drugs, violence, and industry troubles behind them to become a veteran touring act and Grammy machine. If not quite the equal of drummer (and fellow New Orleanian) Earl Palmer's Backbeat, this is a fine, often chilling look both back and forward. --Rickey Wright