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1989 – Neville Brothers: Yellow Moon

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

Released in March 1989, "Yellow Moon" is an album and a song by the Neville Brothers. If the album was very well received both by the critics and the public, the song is considered to this very day to be the best example of what the Neville Brothers were all about: Musicianship.

I really don't know what's happening to me right now. I feel like I'm a "crybaby". Tears seem to roll anytime for no reason at all. Anyway, let me take my handkerchief close to me; I'll need it in a few minutes (laughs)! "Yellow Moon" has got to be, no, sorry... "Yellow Moon" is my absolute favourite "Balearic Breakfast" track. If I remember correctly, it was requested somewhere in the second half of 2022, and I immediately fell in love with it (thank you to whoever requested it, I will find your name brother and will post it here!). I loved everything about it: the lyrics, the rhythm, the groove and, of course, last but not least, the musicianship the Neville Brothers always provided when they played the track live. It has everything I love in Music; it allows the listener to sway, to drift away, it brings a lot of emotions in a nice time frame, and it does not impose itself on the listener; it's a never-ending present. Let's listen to the album version to get into the mood!

Yellow moon, yellow moon, why you keep peeping in my window? Do you know something I don't know? Did you see my baby walking down the railroad tracks? You can tell me if the girls ever coming back.

Is she hid out with another or is she trying to get back home? Is she wrapped up in some other's arms? Or is the girl somewhere all alone? Can you see if she is missing me, or is she having a real good time? Has she forgotten all about, or is the girl still mine all mine?

With your eye so big a shiney You can see the whole damn land Yellow moon can you tell me If the girl's with another man? Oh yellow moon, have you seen that creole woman You can tell me, Now ain't you a friend of mine.

When Colleen played the track, she chose a live rendition of it. This is also one of the Things about "Balearic Breakfast" that make it so unique: we got to hear tracks both in the way they were recorded and also the way they were performed live, depending on the vibe Colleen wants to convey. It's so nice because a track like "Yellow Moon" shows its potential on stage. And believe me, discovering a track like that one in a great live version is Truly Mesmerising. It brings back to my mind what David Mancuso once said about requests being made at the loft :

"I would take requests. And I play the requests in the order that they were given to me, because I wanted people to participate. Then what started to happen was someone would ask, “David, could you play?” And I just happened to have it in my hand. I’m ready to push the button. You get to a psychic level. You know what I mean. You can’t explain it. There’s a higher level; a higher power. Not preaching or anything, this is about music."

If we take these wise words, and simply think about the song, it seems obvious that "Yellow Moon" takes you on a Musical trip, you get to a psychic level. Yes, you can't explain it. There is a Higher level in that song, a higher power, and this is about Music. I think I've heard a dozen versions of the song being performed live, including one of the very last made by Aaron a few years ago, and each one of these versions had its own story and showed something I've not heard before; this song is an endless sea of Musical possibilities! And I will prove it to you in a few minutes; just let me talk a little about the Neville Brothers.

The Neville Brothers were an American R&B/soul/funk group formed in 1976 in New Orleans, Louisiana and consisted of Aaron (vocals), Art (vocals, keyboards), Charles (saxophone) and Cyril (percussions). Together, they issued 9 studio albums, played countless times live and had a lot of hits, including Bird on a Wire, Healing Chant, Fly Like an Eagle, Sister Rosa, of course Yellow Moon and many others. Not to mention that you may have recognised that unmistakable voice... Yes, you're right! That's the one of Aaron singing "Tell it like it Is" (1966), which he re-recorded in 2006.

Back to "Yellow Moon". The album, produced by Daniel Lanois and recorded in New Orleans in a vacated apartment, allowed the Neville Brothers to break into the Mainstream. “It didn’t quite get to gold (500,000 copies sold), but it got close. The last I heard, it was well over 300,000 and still selling. I think it was a combination of the album, and the publicity that went before it. Over the years, people have been hearing all these other people (like Richards and Ronstadt) talking about us. I think the combinations of all the things that went on in the ‘80s” led to the breakthrough with “Yellow Moon.” said Charles in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1990. Eventually, the track "Healing Chant" won best pop instrumental performance at the 32nd (1989) Grammy Awards.

If the whole album is really beautiful (despite its vintage sonic approach), having a strong Balearic Formula to it (simply listen to songs like My Blood, Fire and Brimstone or even Voodoo) and showcasing heartbreaking tracks like "Will the Circle be Unbroken" (trad.) while being at the same time very adventurous (Sister Rosa); it is really "Yellow Moon" that stands out (both because of the structure of the song but also because of its sonic signature, it is one of the "darkest sounding" song of the lot).

As I said, the song has been performed live countless times over the years and became a classic in its own right. Here are some of my favourite live versions of the song (which to me is quite close to a blues really). Take the time to listen to the variations, to the tonality of the song, to the way the instruments interact with each other, to the way they blend together while having slightly different tonalities... You'll understand why I cry from happiness whenever I hear the song!

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