Saturday, March 24, 2012

Art Neville: "Arabian Love Call" (1959)

"Arabian Love Call" was the b-side of Art Neville's third and last single for Specialty Records.  It's one of several reasons why, if you like the Neville Brothers' brand of funky-elegant New Orleans r&b, and you already have Treacherous and Treacherous Too (still the necessary first stop for the Brothers' pre-fame stuff), you need to pick up Art Neville: His Specialty Recordings

Detailed info on the Nevilles is surprisingly scarce online.  Even the amazingly detailed fan-created discography is gone (here's the Archive version).  You can read up a little on Art's '50s and '60s recordings here and here.  All I have to add to that is that Art is an underrated vocalist.  He doesn't have the angelic pipes of Aaron or the soul-man slow-burn intensity of Cyril.  What he has instead is a laid-back bluesy assurance and an unfailing sense of fun.  That's the hallmark of the Neville Brothers, their whole oeuvre, as far as I'm concerned:  a joie de vivre that can invest the silliest novelty material with the dignity of serious play.

So, first thing, musically, "Arabian Love Call" has about as much to do with the Middle East as it does the Middle West, to wit, nothing.  It's pure swamp.  Lyrically, it does go on about "way down yonder in a 'Rabian land," but this hardly even rises to the level of Orientalism.  It's just a goof.  Just an excuse to throw together some rangy cowbell, swampy guitar, and juju horns over a rhythm that shimmers like a bayou in moonlight.  It's as evocative and supple as a Duke Ellington number, but with a definitively Neville touch:  that falsetto "love call" that functions as a refrain.  Just this side of a yodel, it connects the song to the deep strain of whacked-out Americana-exotica that produced things like "Indian War Whoop."  It's funny, and it's funky, and it's good.


Jon Tyler said...

Greetings, Sgt! Nice blog!!!! I too am a fan of the Neville Brothers, especially Art Neville. In fact, when I was first introduced to the Nevilles’ music (via the “Treacherous” CD, of course) it was Art’s voice, which really caught my ear the most and he remains my favorite to this day. For your readers in Europe, it might be easier to find Art’s “Mardi Gras Rock ‘n’ Roll” CD than the one you have pictured. Both cover the same years and are equally good. Of course, any Art Neville fanatic will want both because there are tracks exclusive to each (although MANY tracks overlap between the two, so the casual fan would certainly be happy with one or the other!)

I want to thank you for your kind words about “the amazingly detailed fan-created discography.” I was the one who maintained the NevilleTracks website, which I was forced to shut down last October due to financial reasons. I have been running a NevilleTracks Facebook page for a while now and recently started a Blog (which is not off to the greatest start, but it’s still new.) Neither contains the actual discography, but I can send a copy of that (in PDF format) to anyone who is interested. Email me at jonrtyler (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’d be more than happy to send you a copy.

Again, thanks for your kind words and for your fine blog!!!

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