April 24, 1989 12:00 PM

The Neville Brothers

Both of these New Orleans groups share the deep affections of fans in the Crescent City, but the similarities end there.

For the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Voodoo (Columbia) is a major-label debut; for the Nevilles, Yellow Moon (A&M) is a breakthrough record. The DDBB (there are actually eight of them) draw inspiration from such disparate sources as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. They also show some tricks they may have picked up from working with folks like Elvis Costello and David Byrne. They provide a rousing reworking of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” for example, with Dr. John on vocals. The octet shifts into a cha-cha-driven jam to perform the title track. And if that didn’t prove these guys aren’t a typical Mardi Gras band, they give a Mexican twist to Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t Drive Drunk.” (Turning this message song into an instrumental seems odd, though the ominous bass notes suggests a dire warning against getting behind the wheel under the influence—if you know the song’s title.)

The Nevilles’ Yellow Moon is a moving display of their talent, an ambitious undertaking apparently designed to give the Nevilles a mainstream following. There are inherent risks—alienating fans who expect more traditional New Orleans sounds. But the Nevilles are in able hands with producer Daniel (Peter Gabriel, U2) Lanois, who can get the best out of world-class talent and, although not always subtly, drive home a message. “My Blood,” an appeal to God to watch over oppressed peoples, gives the record a strong, soulful start. The DDBB sits in on “Fire and Brimstone” and helps complete the song’s ’60s-soul feel. “Voodoo” sounds like Bill Withers meets Loggins and Messina. Ugly concept? Pure honey. Anyone who appreciates Aaron’s 1966 classic “Tell It Like It Is” will swoon over his tremulous vocal on “A Change Is Gonna Come.” There isn’t a weak track on Yellow Moon, which suggests the Nevilles’ time to spring their warm, vibrant music on the uninitiated may have come. (The brothers’ Cinemax special, Tell It Like It Is, premieres May 21.)

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