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That New Orleans-style groove

Wren Wertin

The Neville Brothers, a New Orleans family, is credited with the Crescent City’s hold on the American music scene. They’ll play at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

The Nevilles have gold and platinum albums in six countries, but they built their reputation on their live show. Known for high energy and a sinful groove, the brothers know how to draw an audience in. American novelist John Ed Bradley wrote about them in GQ magazine.

“The Nevilles play Tipitina’s, and a spooky magic happens. Fruit juice becomes a hurricane cocktail, the fat of foot can suddenly hoof it, the blind, by God, can see.”

The Vilar Center might not be the smokey New Orleans landmark Tipitina’s is, but it’s an intimate venue for a group who can pack a festival.

The Neville Brothers are Aaron Neville (vocals), Art Neville (keyboards, organ, vocals), Charles Neville (tenor, alto, and soprano saxophone, native flute, vocals) and Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion). They also play with other assorted members of their extended family; Ivan Neville will be with them for the Beaver Creek show.

“In New Orleans, musical families are very common,” said Charles Neville. “It’s still like that. My parents weren’t necessarily musical, but it’s part of the way of life in New Orleans.”

The brothers have played together since birth, but they didn’t begin their musical career as a unit. Art first made musical waves with “Mardi Gras Mambo,” and he began backing Little Richard in the studio. Charles ran to Memphis, where he played with nearly everybody: Big Joe Turner, Johnny Ace, Wilson Pickett, Tee Vee Mama and B.B. King to name a few. After falling in love with the yodeling cowboys of cinema, Aaron developed his signature falsetto and recorded “Tell It Like It Is,” a hit.

Art eventually formed The Meters, and was later joined by Cyril in group now known as the grand masters of New Orleans’ Caribbean-influenced second line funk style. While The Meters ruled New Orleans French Quarter, Cyril and Aaron played on Claiborne Avenue with the Soul Machine, and Charles found himself teaching at Goddard College in Vermont, a very long way from home.

But not for long.

After their mother’s death in 1975, an uncle passed on the information that their mother and father always wanted to see them work together as a band. And so they did.

“The music is still popular because we still love to do it, and people can tell,” said Charles. “We don’t make the music for the money or to make records. It’s an expression of the person and who they are.”

They weren’t instant hits, though musicians adored them. Keith Richards said “Fiyo on the Bayou” was the best album of 1981, the same year the Stones released “Tatoo You,” which contained the hit single “Start Me Up.” 1988 was when they things got rolling – “Yellow Moon,” their album produced by Daniel Lanois, won a Grammy.

“The music we play is unlike popular music of America today,” he said. “It says something about an added awareness of the world around us, how we think and who we are. Me – I’m hoping for the conservation of our little planet, the air we breathe, trees not cut down and burned… More and more people hating each other, it’s not good. I personally can’t change all that, but I can play my songs.”

All of the brothers have side projects which keep them busy. Charles put out “Safe in Buddha’s Palm” in 1999, an album that has his favorite song on it. He wrote “Ladies” in honor of the women in his life who have loved and cared for him.

“My mother is one of them,” he said. “And other women I knew who were mistreated. What beautiful, gentle creatures they are, but they got shafted because they’re not men.”

He enjoys writing, but doesn’t have one particular method.

“Sometimes the whole song comes to me, and sometimes someone else suggests something to me,” he said. “I want it to be a real song, something other than, “Ooh ooh girl.'”

The Neville Brothers perform at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Thursday at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to buy tickets visit http://www.vilarcenter.org or call 845-TIXS.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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