After seventy five years walking the Earth, Aaron Neville almost seems to be picking up speed. His famed falsetto is approaching the fifty year anniversary of his first million selling record, “Tell It Like It Is,” back in 1967, and on his newest release, Apache, he shows himself to be as vital and on point as ever. Born and raised in New Orleans, as both a solo act and as part of the legendary Neville Brothers, Aaron Neville has been a defining force in the sound of one of America’s greatest music cities. When Jazz Fest saves the closing spot for your band every year, you know you’re doing something right.Listen to the album streaming in full below, via NPR Music, and follow along with our close review below.With Eric Krasno (Lettuce, Soulive) showing off his masterful ear as producer, alongside his Lettuce band mates Benny Bloom and Ryan Zoidis, AKA The Shady Horns, Apache is a great listen. Adding to the mayhem are Daptone Horns duo of David Guy & Cochemea Gastelum, bringing punctuation and precision fills to the proceedings. All this help leaves Neville the space to find the heart of each piece without having to carry the load alone. That sort of confidence in his fellow musicians comes from decades gathering knowledge through experience, and the wisdom generated along the way very much informs the material on this album. When an artist with the achievements, accolades and life experiences of Aaron Neville steps to the microphone to share his accumulated thoughts on the meaning of it all, even the most learned soul in earshot would do well to pause and listen.“Be Your Man” kicks off the disc with an authoritative barrel roll of a bass line, and a laser sharp backing band that rises and falls with a deep yet not over-powering resonance. Continuing the use of talent on horns, Neville recreates a sparse late-fifties hi fidelity jam, treading the fine line of jazz and full on crooning with singular balance. On “Orchard In A Storm” the legendary smoothness of Neville’s voice floats over the polished back drop of a gentle rise and fall like early evening waves breaking on shore as he sings of undying love.With as rich of a musical heritage as the city of New Orleans boasts, the catalog of songs written as odes to its idiosyncrasies is long and storied. Neville adds a complex but loving ode, “Stompin’ Ground.” Though most of the song is a jubilant celebration and name checking of the things that make the city what it is, the tune ends on a more stark note. “Sometimes them streets was mean, man,” he speaks with emotional conviction. The naked and raw emotion that peeks through in the last few moments of the the previous tune is on full display in the follow up track, “Heaven,” as Neville begs forgiveness from those he wronged in his long life and hopes to find his way through those exclusive pearly gates.“Hard To Believe” and “Ain’t Gonna Judge You” both come from similar viewpoint of faith, and the importance of truth in all aspects of life. Though he is obviously still a fighter, Neville shows his tender song on “I Wanna Love You.” “It ain’t complicated,” he sings, “I wanna love you,” and it’s spoken with all the charm and earnestness Neville has built a career on helping make his case. The next song, “Sarah Ann,” seems to echo from some distant sock hop, Neville’s trademark warble being used to its most triumphant effect as he reaches the crescendos before giving way to a sweet and swinging organ solo slightly too hip for the era but perfect for the song.Another look back on the past darkly, the strident horns and crisp drum beat of “Make Your Mama Cry” add an element of sad inevitability to the song as Neville tries to sway a wayward soul on a dark and dangerous path. Is he referring to his own troubled past, the issues he sees facing the up and comers, or some sad middle ground? It’s hard to say where his heart was, but the follow-up album closing track “Fragile World” starts with a dramatic spoken word piece that focuses attention on the perils we face as a species from outside our control to within. Lyrically calling back to one of the great musical laments of all time, “What’s Goin’ On” by the late, great sage Marvin Gaye, Neville presents his thoughts in a closing testimonial.Neville once again uses the closing moments of a song to drive his message home. With “Fragile World,” he expands that summation to include this entire collection and in a very real way his entire body of work. He calls for peace on Earth and good will towards everybody, as ragtime jams roll behind him, giving his words a home spun element of shining truth that are impossible to deny. If you were looking for a more fitting encapsulation of the music and message of Aaron Neville, you would be served well with that final snippet.For a musician with over fifty years under his belt, creating fresh material so in tune with the spirit and skill that he has shown over his entire career is as remarkable an achievement as any in Neville’s already inspirational life.
You are Here
- Aaron Neville Welcomes Lettuce Members On Fierce New Album, ‘Apache’ [Review/Stream]