Concert review: Royal Southern Brotherhood brings ‘The Soul of the South’ to the Gramophone, Thursday, July 5

Rick Priest

St. Louis-native blues guitarists Devon Allman and Mike Zito brought their new star-studded band, Royal Southern Brotherhood, to the Gramophone for a hometown show Thursday night that packed the house and raised the roof.

Marrying the “royal” musical bloodlines of Allman (son of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Gregg Allman) and the Neville Brothers’ Cyril Neville, along with Zito, bassist Charlie Wooten and drummer Yonrico Scott (who has performed with Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers Band and Derek Trucks Band), The Royal Southern Brotherhood is a musical force with a sound of its own that combines the best of all its players.

While Allman and Zito bring their signature blues style, Neville and Wooten spice it up with some New Orleans soul and funk, and Scott keeps a heavy rock and roll beat. Self described as “The Soul of the South,” the group lived up to its expectations, putting on a no-holds-barred set that had the small Gramophone rocking like it probably never has before.

They worked through selections from their just released, self-titled debut album (produced by Jim Gaines), with Allman, Zito and Neville taking alternate turns on lead vocals. Kicking things off with “Fired Up!” they got everyone on the floor singing along, “all fired up and ready to go!”

Neville, the elder statesman of the group at age 63, stood center stage looking very fit and sounding great as he sang and beat his drums, clad all in black (aside from a bright red Kangol cap) and decorated with puka shells and assorted necklaces.

Zito showed his own vocal prowess on the soulful “Hurts My Heart,” and he and Neville dazzled on their Blues Music Award-winning song “Pearl River” from Zito’s 2009 album of the same name.

The highlight of the show for me was the band’s sensational cover of the Grateful Dead’s epic jam “Fire on the Mountain,” which was one of the best versions of the song I’ve heard performed (including the many times I saw the Dead perform it). It ended in an all out jam including a transcendent guitar duel between Allman and Zito that left the crowd screaming and clamoring for more.

Giving the other guys a break, bassist Wooten got some alone time onstage for a funky solo, and then was joined by Scott, showing off his drum skills. The rest of the band returned for the upbeat “Sweet Jelly Donut.”

After the main set, Allman and Zito, who met each other while working at Guitar Center in the ’90s, engaged in a playful exchange to give the audience a taste of what their days were like working at the store — taking turns showing off with legendary riffs from songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Van Halen’s “Eruption,” and the Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica,” to which Zito noted, “Hey, my dad just worked at the brewery, he didn’t write famous rock songs.”

They closed out the show with a nod to Allman’s famous pop, performing two Allman Brothers Band staples, “Whipping Post” and “One Way Out.”

With a different and more diverse sound than Allman’s three-piece blues group Honeytribe, this new “supergroup” of sorts is giving him the opportunity to explore his many musical sides and collaborate with some of the finest musicians playing today. The result is as fun to listen to as it is to watch. Their passion comes through in every note.

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