My True Story
It’s one of those covers albums where the artist revisits the material from their youth; the songs that influenced them, had an impression, set them off on their own journey…and unlike so many in this “genre” – this is fabulous. I’d go so far as to call it the best thing Aaron Neville has done in two decades – even though I enjoyed what now seems to be the final Neville Brothers record (since, apparently, time has been called on that wonderful group). And even though saying that is not (actually) going that far.
I saw Aaron Neville sing a couple of years ago, a package-tour bill, him as a special guest of The Blind Boys of Alabama, Mavis Staples was the opening act. Neville was horrific – just phoning it in; coasting. (Apparently you can phone in gossamer). But the audience had decided, ahead of time, that they would love it. Because It Was Aaron Neville.
Hearing this new album reminded me of when I first heard that voice; that magic/magical voice. It’s all but translucent here; somehow finding itself inside these tunes – it just appears, as if it’s either always been there, or is angelically hovering above. Beautiful.
And the material, early rock’n’roll, doo-wop, hints of gospel and soul – perfect.
That Neville, 70, can sound like this – beautiful wafting, drifting (and so inspired) – is a marvel.
The album is produced by Don Was and Keith Richards, Benmont Tench and Greg Leisz are among the playing cast. Backing vocalists include some old-time doo-wop heavy hitters: members of The Teenagers, Del-Vikings, Jive-Five…)
Not every song works, Neville is not going to convince you that his take on Be My Baby is the right move – but nothing tanks. Because, unlike when I saw him (almost) singing, he’s committed to this project, you can tell it was the cliché-Labour-of-Love; you can feel it; hear it – it’s a beautiful recapturing of the magic that Neville offered across the late 1980s/early 1990s both solo and with the Brothers band.
The winner for me is his version of This Magic Moment. Perfect. Gypsy Woman, also.
And that’s the reason this album works so well – the song-choice is immaculate; these are tunes that exist to be reinterpreted (in most cases; Be My Baby’s original is – surely – definitive). Evocative of an era, recast now, in new shoes; the songs sound gorgeous. Aaron sounds – finally, for the first time in a long time – like he’s trying. Once again.
That voice – when he means it – is beautiful; it means so much to me. I love this album.