herald

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Aaron's a dream and sings like an angel

Although it narrowly failed to make No 1 when released in 1966, Aaron Neville's haunting single Tell It Like It Is went on to become rated as one of the greatest rock'n'roll songs ever.

Neville wasn't disappointed. The track was a million-seller and became the unofficial anthem of America's Black Power movement. Besides, being a successful artist was better than being a jailbird.

When I met Aaron, who's an imposing broad-shouldered dude, I was intrigued by the homemade tattoos on his face. Sure enough, they dated from the time he spent in jail for car theft. Aaron quit the gang life and stuck with music.

While his famous brothers can cook up a funky musical storm, Aaron is renowned for his distinctive vocal quaver. As a kid, he and his mates sang vocal harmonies just like the great doo-wop groups of the Fifties.

When Don Was, president of Blue Note records, discussed an album with Neville, the idea came up of covering some of the songs that meant something to him back then. As the repertoire grew, they phoned Keith Richards who joined as co-producer and band leader.

Richards says the session was "a dream and Aaron sang like an angel". The old reprobate is right. Nobody puts a riff wrong. This is superior stuff, with Neville treating each song, from Money Honey to Goodnight My Love, as if it was written specially for him.

Of the 12 songs on this collection, Be My Baby makes the biggest impression. Although it's been widely covered since Phil Spector produced the definitive hit for The Ronettes, it's impossible to conceive of anyone other than the iconic girl group having ownership of this song. That is, until Neville wraps his syrupy tonsils around the melody.

On Hank Ballard's Work with me Annie you'll know it's not housework he's celebrating. Positively slippery.

Blending This Magic Moment with True Love, songs by Lou Reed's mentor Doc Pomus, Neville hits a transcendent groove.

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