‘He set the tone’: Keith Richards is unlikely secret weapon on Aaron Neville’s new doo wop album

Growing up in New Orleans, Aaron Neville loved doo-wop music, so an album focused on this 1950s-era music makes sense. What perhaps doesn’t is that this new Blue Note release finds him collaborating with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

Turns out, according to producer and label head Don Was, Richards is a long-time fan of the music, too. Was says he learned that while producing his initial project for the Stones, 1993′s Voodoo Lounge.

That album would eventually include the doo wop-inflected “Sweethearts Together.” Of course, longtime fans will also remember Richards’ similarly retro-sounding “I Could Have Stood You Up,” from his 1988 solo project Talk is Cheap.

Besides Richards, My True Story, Neville’s first album for Blue Note, also includes organist Benmont Tench, a founding member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers band; drummer George Receli (Bob Dylan), guitarist Greg Leisz (Sheryl Crow, Beck) and bassist Tony Scherr (Norah Jones, Bill Frisell).

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Doo wop is just the latest genre twist in a career that's seen Aaron Neville delve into R&B, pop, gospel, even country. He talked with us about this amazing musical journey.]

The focus, however, remains squarely on Neville, who at 72 can still reach remarkable places on the high end of his vocal range.

He tackles legendary cuts like “Tears on my Pillow” from Little Anthony and the Imperials, “Work with Me, Annie” from Hank Ballard, and “Under the Boardwalk” and “This Magic Moment” from the Drifters, as well as some lesser-known favorites.

In fact, the title cut has been stuck in Was’ brain ever since those initial days of producing the Stones, and it’s one of the reasons he knew Richards would be perfect for the My True Story sessions.

“I remembered back to the first album I produced with the Rolling Stones; I had the hotel room right above Keith Richards,” Was tells Brian Ives of Radio.com. “He only played one record, over and over, for six weeks: and that was a Jive Five compilation called My True Story. So I knew he loved doo-wop and I knew he loved that song. I always loved that song, ‘My True Story.’”

Was also deeply appreciates Richards’ authenticity, his willingness to play with real emotion — no matter the setting.

“He won’t play derivative parts,” Was added. “He’s gonna be himself and that set the tone for the band, which was to play from the heart — don’t copy the record, stay true to the original emotional intention of the song.”

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  • Mark Saleski

    Aaron Neville is 72?! dang.