Nick Bollinger reviews a comfortably funky set from soul survivor Aaron Neville.
When it comes to contradictory packages, I’m hardly the first to point out the paradox of Aaron Neville, with his wrestler’s build, his prison tattoos, wicked ‘third-eye’ birthmark, and the voice of an angel. In fact, I wonder if the appeal of that paradox is the reason his records have often been a bit schmaltzy; everyone just wants to hear the angel sing. But his new album is a reminder that the New Orleans singer has other sides.
At 75, Neville is still in control of that formidable vibrato, still sounding somehow both weightless, and as though he’s carrying the weight of the world. The songs, though, are a long way from the ballads that have been his calling card ever since Linda Ronstadt hauled him onto the Grammy stage. ‘Hard To Believe’ is in the vein of ‘Hercules’, the Allen Toussaint-penned piece of funk that, while never a hit, has over the years become a deejay’s favourite. It’s one of eleven tracks that make up the new album, only one of which wasn’t written by Neville himself. They lean heavily on the New Orleans R&B he grew up with, and the funk that, as a member of the Neville Brothers, he helped create.
The ups and downs of his own life are the basis of virtually all these songs. ‘Sarah Ann’ is an ode to his wife Sarah Ann Friedman, who he met in 2008, not long after his first wife of 50 years succumbed to cancer. ‘Make Your Momma Cry’ is a cautionary tale directed at his younger self.
With arrangements that feel classic rather than retro, the only track here that seems a little miscast is the opener, ‘Be Your Man’ - tellingly, the one song Neville didn’t have a hand in writing. It sounds like the theme from Shaft.
The album is titled Apache, after a nickname he used to go by in New Orleans, and that - with its suggestion of street gangs and Mardi Gras Indians - rings true.
Songs featured: All Of The Above, Stompin’ Ground, Hard To Believe, Sarah Ann, Make Your Momma Cry, Be Your Man.
Apache is available on Tell It Records.