Ivan Neville of the famed New Orleans Neville Family and leader of Dumpstaphunk collaborates with Baltimore-based Cris Jacobs, bandleader (The Bridge) and songwriter to form a quartet and release their first album, Neville Jacobs. The duo reached out to veteran Louisiana players Tony Hall (bass) and Brady Blade (drums) to form their band. Hall and Blade are a tight rhythm section, having backed Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews, and Jewel to name a few.
Neville, vocals and keyboards, is the son of the iconic Aaron Neville, who makes a guest appearance. Jacobs, vocals and guitar, led the Baltimore band The Bridge from 2001-2011 before forming his own band for solo albums, mostly recently Dust to Gold. Both Neville and Jacobs share songwriting credits and trade off on the lead vocals. With the album recorded at Blade Studios in Shreveport, LA, they also invited Shreveport-based singer and violinist Theresa Andersson to join them on a few selections. Anjelina Joseph and Kayla Buggage join on vocals.
Jacobs and Neville met by chance, killing time between gigs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They were seated next to each other at a poker table in Harrah’s Casino. They instantly recognized each other because their paths had crossed with common gigs between their bands. Like many off-hand conversations, this one ended with the casual agreement to make music together at some point. The two kept that agreement though and a mutual friend, Joe Michaels, got them together for a songwriting session in Baltimore a year and a half later.
The results of those demos – Neville on piano and Jacobs on guitar, are fully fleshed out here with the full unit on nine tracks. As they describe it, the songs are truly collaborative. Each came in with snippets of ideas and in some cases full songs but like most great songwriting duos, one concentrates on the music and other on the lyrics, Neville and Jacobs respectively in this case. Six of the nine tunes represent their collaboration.
The exception to their collaborative writing is the single “Makeup of a Fool,” a ballad, which features the unmistakable crooning voice of Aaron Neville backing his son’s lead. It’s a song Neville wrote with Anders Osborne for the 2011 film A Little Bit of Heaven. “I know not a lot of people heard it or were aware of it,” Neville says. “But it just fit into what we were doing with the Neville Jacobs project, so we decided to give it a shot and see what that song sounds like if we play it, and it fit.”
The album begins with “Wasted,” a heavy funk tune propelled by Jacob’s guitar and Neville’s keyboards, especially clavinet as each trade vocals, mostly with Neville leading. The Jacobs-penned “The Stakes” has a punchy rhythm as you hear Andersson’s voice joining Jacob’s lead while Neville and others harmonize. “City Rain” has Jacobs on the lead vocal for his own beautiful R&B ballad, augmented by several vocalists in the chorus. Hard funk returns in the cover “I Wanna Know,” again with several voices in the mix before Ivan takes the lead vocal. Blade’s incessant, slightly behind the beat drumming drives this one. Again, Anderrson is prominent among the voices. Jacob’s gentle acoustic guitar opens “River Behind Me,” a gorgeous tune written for Ivan’s mother, imbued by Anderrson’s violin. Neville is on piano for the up-tempo “Dance For Me Mama” while Hall thumps a pulsating bass. As expected from a Neville, there’s a political tune, “Money Talks,” again graced by Anderrson’s violin. They close with another funky statement, “Good to You.”
As for the future of this band, Neville offers, “Our schedules our so filled up with our own groups and other stuff, so it’s hard to say,” he explains. “Cris has his own Cris Jacobs Band. I have Dumpstaphunk. We both have our main projects among other things we do. So this is just another little vehicle for putting out music, or to collaborate, and we’ll see what happens. We’re ready at any time to start the engines up again and create some more music for this project, but right now we’re going to take it as it comes and see how far we can go with this.” Let’s hope this is only the first chapter. Neville and Jacobs collaborate so naturally and seamlessly.