In a song called ”Sons and Daughters,” the Neville Brothers decide to take on the ills of society, among them gangs. There are young men standing on the corner, armed — or so Art Neville soberly intones — with brass knuckles and switchblades. Trouble is, gangs now carry Uzis. Somehow the Nevilles don’t seem quite up to date.
And that goes for their music, too. In Brother’s Keeper, they sing reassuring harmony; guests like Linda Ronstadt and Buffy Sainte Marie contribute sturdy background vocals; the instrumental playing (especially the Nevilles’ rhythm section) is always savory. Still, despite the group’s formidable, longtime reputation for boiling New Orleans R&B, their new album mostly sounds peaceful, even detached; the one thing most conspicuously not there is the biting edge of the street.
As a result, the only cuts that really connect are the ones that seem intentionally quiet, among them ”Fearless,” an inspirational number with a peaceful gospel refrain sung by Aaron Neville in his trademark comforting falsetto. When he’s singing lead, God’s in his heaven and music can’t get any sweeter. But the rest of the record never quite comes to life. B-