Women on Record – Purpose & Attitude
16th June 2014 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Gaynielle Neville is certainly most recognized as a backup vocalist in support of her husband’s, Cyril Neville, various band projects including the Uptown Allstars. Her vivacious personality, talent and stage presence has also made her a much-loved member of the New Orleans community in her own right.
Gaynielle, who like so many other of this city’s musicians came up singing in the church, steps out to take center stage on Woman Power, an album that is equal parts a celebration of family and females. She calls out both resources for this her debut CD as leader. Thus she enlists such artists as bassist Cassandra Faulconer (Cowboy Mouth, among others), keyboard player Keiko Komaki (Brass-A-Holics) and drummer Boyanna Trayanova (multiple groups), plus percussionist Cyril and their son, musical adviser Omari Neville and daughter, backup vocalist Liryca Neville. Non-related musicians, though members of New Orleans musical family, onboard for the session include guitarist Cranston Clements, trumpeter Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill and trombonist Corey Henry. Others in the back-up vocal group are Deri Andra Tucker and Dane Ruffins.
The result is an honest, straight-forward, old school, soul groove of an album with a story to tell. “What we have is woman power,” Gaynielle screams with a lot of grit on the opening title cut. She had a hand in this solid tune as she did with all but three cuts on the disc. The wizardry of guitarist Clements really gives this song, and the CD, a kick start. He’s got that subtle and tasty touch that complements the fullness of Gaynielle and her back-up vocalists’ voices and the horns.
It’s not surprising that she, like Cyril, addresses the here and now of the trials and tribulations of life in her lyrics. The useless, tragic violence that surrounds us is the topic of “Caught in the Crossfire,” another collaborated composition. “No solution can be found,” she regretfully sings of the ongoing gunfire.
Directly after that, Gaynielle goes to the vaults for the classic Smokey Johnson/Wardell Quezergue second line staple, “It Ain’t My Fault.” Gaynielle adds additional lyrics to the song which, except for its refrain of “No, it ain’t my fault” was originally an instrumental. Her words do it justice and it’s always a good thing to keep great tunes alive and out there for new audiences.
There’s a bit of funk in Gaynielle’s interpretation of Hoyt Garrick’s more country/pop tune “New Orleans Ladies.” It certainly fits in this themed album with the often, wonderfully hard-hitting Komaki offering some beautifully tasteful acoustic piano.
On Woman Power, Gaynielle Neville stands center stage with grit, rhythm, purposefulness and her family and friends surrounding her. That, it would seem, was exactly her aim.
I Wanna Be Evil – With Love to Eartha Kitt
Vocalists Rene Marie and the late great Eartha Kitt have more than musical talent in common. They spoke their minds on the political front. Marie remains highly noted for singing the lyrics of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a civic event in Denver. While at a White House Luncheon in 1968, Kitt voiced her anti-Vietnam War sentiments directly to Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of then-President Lyndon Johnson. In other words, these women boast an essential element called edge.
That component plus a flair for humor and the dramatic makes Rene Marie’s choice to pay tribute to the exotic Kitt so appropriate. So when the album opens with a splash of cymbals and Marie’s heinous sounding laugh, the vocalist immediately puts the listener into her – and Kitt’s – flamboyant world. “They say I’m a witch and that I leave a spell,” Marie seriously emotes before the session starts swinging. Trombonist Wycliffe Jordan, who perhaps remains best known for his work with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, takes a cool solo. Wycliffe’s trombone becomes the perfect foil to Marie’s haunting, passionate vocals on “Oh, John.” As perhaps in response to yearning, his trombone squeaks and growls in either agony or delight or perhaps a bit of both.
The title cut, “I Wanna Be Evil,” opens, as Kitt’s version did, with a spoken word passage. The brilliant Kitt, with her theatrical experience and dramatic delivery, brings a more cabaret feel to the intro. That’s not to take anything away from Marie’s fine version that digs in with some jungle-tone drums. The trumpet of Etienne Charles, saxophonist Adrian Cunning-ham and pianist Kevin Bales then head it into bebop territory.
Marie resurrects one of Kitt’s signature tunes, “C’est Si Bon,” employs hushed tones on Cole Porter’s romantic “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and takes “Come On-A My House” a long, long way from Rosemary Clooney’s original, more chastely delivered hit. The vocalist’s sultry delivery of “Santa Baby” is way too steamy for the summertime though should fill the bill when December rolls around.
Rene Marie took on the challenge of celebrating Eartha Kitt and succeeded musically and with attitude on I Wanna Be Evil.
This article originally published in the June 16, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.