August 27, 1990 12:00 PM

The Neville Brothers

With the notable exception of the San Francisco 49ers, winning back-to-back championships is no easy task. Likewise the odds were against the Nevilles pulling off another album as good as last year’s Yellow Moon.

As it happens, while New Orleans’s First Family of R&B has made it to the playoffs—this album is a distinct pleasure—they won’t be going to the Big Party.

Producer Malcolm Burns, replacing Daniel Lanois, keeps much of Yellow Moon’s deep, echoing tone. But he and the Nevilles stress the group’s funkier side in this album. “Brother Jake” shimmies along with a synthesizer riff that freezes you in your tracks, then gets things shaking again. Even Elvis’s “Mystery Train” gets a funky make-over that sends it boogeying down the track. Aaron Neville’s falsetto on “Fearless” is, per usual, seamless and emotionally charged, with his duet pal Linda Ronstadt adding harmony.

The vocal duties among the brothers are doled out more evenly than they have been at times in the past, giving Art a chance to step out on the Billy Preston-ish “Witness.”

There aren’t a lot of flat spots, but there are enough to keep this album from being the triumph Yellow Moon was. The muddled message song “Sons and Daughters,” which comes in a semi-rapped spoken version and ordinary variety, sounds preachy and ponderous. The treacly Leonard Cohen theme from the film Bird on a Wire seems like a marketing ploy.

If these criticisms seem like nit-picking, well, when you’re champs, everyone’s gunning for you. (A&M)

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