October 11, 2006
A 'Brother' Sings The Standards
The irony wasn't lost on Aaron Neville.
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"It was a hurtin' thing to see my home like that. It was like we weren't a part of the U.S.A.," he said of his birth place.
The Neville Brothers, of course, are more than a New Orleans legend; the band is known worldwide. Neville noted how shabbily his people were treated. "I was on the road. It was like they were sitting in a bowl. I kept saying for six days, `where is the cavalry?'"
The Neville Brothers are just off a worldwide tour, but Aaron is back on the road with his own band supporting a sensational new album, Bring It On Home - The Soul Classics. It is dedicated to the people of the devastated city.
He will perform much of the material Saturday night at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
"We weren't trying to outdo anyone," he said. "It was a labor of love for everyone involved." Contributors include Makuni Fukuda and Ray Parker Jr. who do some blissfully tasteful guitar playing throughout, laying down the law on "Respect Yourself" (with Marvis Staples) and a shuffle groove on Smokey Robinson's "Ain't That Peculiar."
Each cut is a masterpiece. Chris Botti's jazzy saxophone adds depth to the bluesy "Rainy Night In Georgia," and Neil Larsen's organ solo on "Stand By Me" turns it, in the words of Neville, "into a religious experience. He's bad," Neville said of the keyboardist. Among the other classics performed, Robinson's "My Girl" and Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" (with David Sanborn and Art Neville) also resonate.
Chaka Khan also lends her voice to the project.
Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" is one of Neville's favorites: "I had recorded it twice before. The producer suggested it and I said, 'hell yes.' I love that song." The boys laid down a funky riff, and Neville's magical voice did the rest.
Neville, a well-sculpted 65-year-old, has been performing since junior high. "I was doing doo-wop and stuff like that. We had a little band." The third of four brothers, it was a natural combination from the beginning.
"Cyril [the oldest] brought his fire," he remembered. "Art had the thump, and Charlie [the second oldest] had the be-bop." Neville, the third in line, said the family tradition continues today: "my son and nephew are in the band."
The Neville Brothers have been together ever since, but Aaron is probably better known for his solo career, his haunting vibrato-tinged falsetto, a magnet for hitmakers since 1966, when "Tell It Like It Is" hit the top of the charts.
Neville went through some tough times in the seventies, but his penchant for duets struck gold when he released Warm My Heart with Linda Ronstadt. The pair won two Grammies, "Don't Know Much" and "All My Life," both top ten hits.
"It was kind of in the stars," he said of the pairing with Ronstadt. "Everything is in the stars. I didn't plan any of what has happened to me. I met Linda and a few months later she called and said, `why don't you come down and make a record.'"
One overzealous critic once claimed the Neville Brothers made music that was a mix of "rock, blues, zydeco, jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues" - thus covering all the major food groups. While Neville simply calls it "family music," he's been nominated for 16 Grammy Awards for his work in virtually every genre. In fact, he won Best Country and Western Vocal Collaboration (with Trisha Yearwood) for "I Fall to Pieces" in 1994. Over the years he has garnered nominations in the Pop, Gospel and R&B categories.
He has also been named Best Male Singer two years running in the Rolling Stones' critics' poll.
When asked how long he's been on tour, Neville said, "It seems like since 1956!" In fact, he's just off a tour with the Brothers that took him to Europe and Australia and is back on the road with his own band supporting the new recording. Brother Charles on sax, Dave Johnson on bass and keyboards, and Eric Struthers on guitar, all longtime collaborators, are in the band that will be appearing at the WHBPAC Saturday.
Neville, in his younger days, used to have a thing for "Erica" from the soap opera "All My Children." He was surprised to learn Susan Lucci, Erica herself, lives just minutes from the WHBPAC. "Wow," he exclaimed. "I'll have to leave her a ticket."
Aaron Neville and his Quintet will perform at the WHBPAC on Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $70, $55, $45. Call 288-1500.