When certain major events…tragic events..take place, we often look to see how certain mucisians express their feelings about it and if it coincides with our own feelings or informs them, then that artist has delivered something special beyond mere entertainment. Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising was so heavily anticipated because he is widely acclaimed as a musician who can really speak to the Common American, and the Common American wanted someone to speak to him and help him make sense of 9/11.
With 2006 bringing forth a slew of Katrina-affected releases, we have seen some getting a lot of attention for that reason. The anger and sorrow conveyed in albums like The River In Reverse by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint and What’s Going On by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band have particularly gotten a lot of press and it’s not hard to imagine that these records will go down as some of the more notable releases by these guys.
As another New Orleans legend directly affected by the devastating hurricane, Aaron Neville could have easily put forth an angry album full of dispair and no one would have begrudged him one bit. But when it came time for him to make his musical statement about the tragedy, Aaron didn’t send out a strong message for the failure of government or social injustice.
Instead, like many of us, he sought solace in music that to him reminds of a happier time. Only instead of merely listening to this music, he recreated it. And for Neville, the source of that solace are the soul classics he’s cherished for many years.
Like Rod Stewart, Aaron’s stock in trade as a solo artist is an interpreter of other people’s music, so he really doesn’t step out of character for Bring It On Home, The Soul Classics. But unlike Stewart, he still puts his heart and soul into these familiar songs so they remain interesting, and with that incredible voice of his, it’s nearly impossible to think of any of these songs as “just another cover.”
Like his recent endeavors into pre-rock standards and spirituals, the production is clean, the arrangements stick close to the original melody and the tone low key to mid tempo so that the focus is on his vocals. The song selection doesn’t seem to try to impress the audience with offbeat choices; these are all soul hits that were dominating the r&b radio station playlists across America from roughly 1965 to 1975.
And speaking of that low key approach, it’s used to good effect right from the start, as Neville’s tremendous tenor smoothly dips down to baritone just like Brook Benton did in “Rainy Night In Georgia.” You can’t go wrong with a Bill Withers song, and in “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Neville just nails it.
“Respect Yourself” is perhaps the best of the handful of duets, as fellow New Orleans resident Mavis Staples provides the right sass called for. On “When A Man Loves A Woman”, he opts to wring the passion with his trademark meloncholy tone and falsetto rather than sing loud almost to the point of screaming, like, say, Michael Bolton is fond of doing. The only hint of social outcry from Aaron is found at the end in the Sam Cooke civil rights anthem “Change Is Gonna Come.”
When the nation, especially the Gulf South, needs reassurance, there’s hardly anything more comforting than the sweet tenor of Neville’s voice. There’s nothing in-your-face about this album or any Aaron Neville album (he might get a little brassy for his Neville Brothers, though). But after the sorrow and outrage are done, Neville’s Bring It On Home, The Soul Classics makes good companion music for the healing stage.