By Dave Gil DE Rubio
The music legend promises a ‘fantastic’ show
Aaron Neville is a balladeer.
It’s a fact that’s been well established since the world at large heard him croon his 1966 hit “Tell It Like It Is.” It’s been a constant through his time in the Neville Brothers and the more recent years of a solo career that includes his pair of 1989 Grammy-winning duets with Linda Ronstadt (“Don’t Know Much,” “All My Life”) and his 1991 Top 10 cover of The Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool.”
That knack was also most readily apparent in 2013’s “My True Story,” a covers-packed homage to the doo-wop-based music of the New Orleans native’s youth.
That makes his latest project, 2016’s “Apache,” quite the revelation, given how much of the material Neville recorded has a funkier edge to it. Combine that with the fact that this is only the second time in his five-decade-plus recording career that the singer has co-written nearly an album’s worth of material.
With lyrics evolving from a poetry journal of Neville’s that he’d been keeping since the 1970s, this circumstance, combined with his working with retro-soul producers Eric Krasno (guitarist for Soulive and Lettuce) and Dave Gutter (frontman for the Rustic Overtones), make this a musically rich project deserving of more scrutiny.
“I told my manager that I wanted to do something with my poetry, because I write on my cellphone and I’ve got about 150 songs on it and I wanted to put some of them to music. I met Eric at Jazz Fest in 2014, plus he’s been working with my son, Ivan, in Soulive,” Neville explains.
“So he (management) got a hold of Eric and Dave Gutter for me and they hooked it all up. We started doing the music over the phone and they’d send me ideas and I’d say yea or nay if I liked it or not. We went into the studio and it didn’t take that long to finish.”
The opening cut “Be Your Man” sets the tone with an insistent tempo, gnarly wah-wah guitar and punchy horn lines that make it sound like a lost outtake from the “Superfly” soundtrack. From here, Neville manages to wrangle everything from organ-goosed New Orleans struts reminiscent of Neville Brother Art’s legendary crew, The Meters (a slinky “Stompin’ Ground”), to pure gospel-infused testifying (an ever-soulful “Heaven”) to a samba-ish, Sam Cooke ode to his current wife (an endearing “Sarah Ann”) to the kind of flat-out funk that Daptone Records has been effectively resurrecting for the past couple of decades (the in-the-pocket jam “Hard to Believe.”) Wrapping it all up in a perfect bow is the closing medley of traditional nuggets “Down by the Riverside/When the Saints Go Marching In.”
It all represents a new beginning for the burly singer, whose main gig with The Neville Brothers ended when the hallowed Louisiana outfit called it quits in 2012, only to briefly reunite to perform a 2015 farewell concert in their native New Orleans. It’s a new chapter that has him blissfully living in upstate New York with his wife.
“What was great was that we were together, and we didn’t just go around the country, but traveled the world. And we got to go on the road with some great people like The Rolling Stones and Santana,” he says.
“By the end, I had my own things that I wanted to do, and I’ve got a long way to go and a short time to make it in. I like the serenity and peace up here in Pawling. I go out in the yard with my little dog, Apache, and my wife, Sarah, is in the kitchen making doggie treats and also ice cream from our strawberries. And unlike the city, I don’t have to get up and walk around to wherever I need to get to. I think I’m even getting used to the cold.”
Nowadays, Neville is bouncing between touring, either as a duo with keyboard player Michael Goods or the Aaron Neville Quintet (which formerly included his brother Charles, who passed away in April 2018). Regardless of which lineup he performs with, Neville’s deep canon and love of music has him promising quite the concert-going experience for those coming out to see him.
“Fans can expect a fantastic show and they can expect to laugh, cry and cheer — all of that,” Neville says.