the Neville Brothers with Harrison Kennedy at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Tuesday (July 27), 8 pm. $35, advance $30. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Since the Dixie Chicks backlash demonstrated how easily unfavourable comments about President Bush can damage a career, very few musicians have been willing to step up and voice their dissent. Fewer still are actually writing and singing songs that openly condemn their government's foreign policy. Unlikely as it might seem, two rational rants against the Bush regime on his recent Stone, Steel And Bright Lights (Transmit Sound/Artemis) live disc put alt-country icon Jay Farrar among the gutsy minority willing to take a stand, but many other artists better known for their socially conscious statements have decided it's more fiscally prudent to remain silent, at least until Bush is out of office.
The Neville Brothers have just finished recording their new album, Walkin' In The Shadow Of Life (Back Porch/EMI) - set for release in October - but don't count on hearing any blood-for-oil indictments from the Nevilles. They might cover the Temptations' Ball Of Confusion at shows, but that's about as political as they're willing to get.
"We're not talking about Bush or the government on the new album," says saxophonist Charles Neville before a sound check in St. Louis. "There's nothing that's directly political - it's more about social issues. Like we've got a song called Don't You Walk Outside that deals with the state of living conditions in our cities."
The imposition of the Patriot Act and the ongoing war in Iraq seem like worthwhile song fodder for the New Orleans-based champions of freedom and brotherhood, but the Nevilles have evidently felt the chill.
"We heard how Whoopi Goldberg lost some gig just because she made a joke about Bush.
"There's a feeling here that it's unpatriotic to criticize President Bush in a time of war, or some bullshit. I thought the freedom to say whatever we want was supposed to be one of the reasons that our guys are fighting over in Iraq. They said Saddam Hussein wasn't letting his people speak out against him. Seems like some kinda double standard."
Maybe if Charles had contributed lyrics, the new album would've been a more politically charged venture. However, a near-fatal car accident left him hospitalized for what was essentially the entire creation process of Walkin' In The Shadow Of Life.
"The recording started in late October, and I had done a couple of things when the accident happened," he explains. "I went to pick up my kids from school, and on the way home I fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a pole.
"Fortunately, the children weren't injured at all, but my neck was damaged, so I had to have disc replacement surgery that left me in a cervical collar for the next four months. I was out for the whole recording.
"My first gig back was at Mardi Gras, and I had to use a wind synthesizer, which was easier for me manipulate, but since the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival at the end of April, I've been playing saxophone. I'm feeling good now."
Since Charles clearly had negligible input on the new album, he can't be held responsible for the sound of Walkin' In The Shadow Of Life. The blame for that rests squarely with the producers, namely loop guru Milton Davis (Paula Abdul, Tamia, 3LW) and keyboardist Ivan Neville.
"It's a very different record for us, real modern-sounding," explains Neville somewhat worryingly. Perhaps sensing my heart sinking, he adds, "But, um, the Neville Brothers groove is still there."