Aaron Neville has a voice that you just know instantly. It’s not one that can be duplicated nor likely will never be seen again. As a member of the Neville Brothers when not venturing out into solo territory, he worked with the group to mix a variety of styles to create an essential American sound. Neville’s solo work has also brought him some deserved accolades, whether it was the song “Bird on a Wire” or his hit single duet with Linda Ronstadt. To say he is an original is an understatement.
But like most artists today, especially Rod Stewart and others who seem to have fallen into a malaise of putting out sub-par material to keep themselves going or to appease label contracts, Neville has opted for the easier path taken. And despite a few songs that will jump out at the listener, for the most part this is the sort of album that drives people crazy. “Standards” albums are far too many now and are a given for basically any artist that is still a label staple yet not going gold or platinum anytime soon. Leave the standards to those who are known for standards such as the great Tony Bennett! Like Christmas albums, these records too often are done solely to appease suits at record corporations.
The record, consisting of standards recorded and written by everyone from the Gershwin’s to Nat King Cole, begins with “Summertime”, a tune penned by Gershwin brothers George and Ira. Neville gives the song a slight jazz style that tends to work for the most part, but there seems to be some intangible that doesn’t quite put the song over the top. “To be singing these chestnuts brings me back to my parents,” Neville says in the press kit. “These were the songs they danced to. These were the songs of my youth.” But unfortunately this song sets the, er, standard for the rest of this standards album. While some interesting touches are blended into the songs, for the most part it’s an exact duplication of the original, meaning Neville’s strong presence and vocal prowess is left on the sidelines.
There are a few great songs here that work to Neville’s strong suit, especially “The Shadow of Your Smile”. Spiced up with some Latin jazz color incorporated into the track, Neville nails the composition and, for the first time, makes one realize how good this album could’ve been. The duet with Linda Ronstadt on “The Very Thought of You” starts off strong, but wanes thanks to a larger orchestrated sound. Neville should be applauded for at least trying to push his own boundaries musically, but the Bennett-like or Sinatra-like overtones to this effort diminish it greatly.
“Cry Me A River” is one of the better efforts as well, which seems to work for the basic fact that Neville isn’t forcing the issue. This song is a laid back and enjoyable tune steeped in jazz. The conclusion, which features tenor saxophone great Michael Brecker working off Neville’s vocal, is stellar. But it’s a fleeting moment unfortunately. “Blame It on My Youth” as well as the title track doesn’t do much for the listener’s pleasure. The bouncy and energetic “Who Will Buy” should have most tapping toes or doing some movement to keep the beat, but it’s the only digression from the orchestrated, classic style used throughout. The title of the track is also somewhat ironic, as few buyers might be asking themselves a similar question regarding the album’s merit.
The album concludes with “Danny Boy”, a track which Neville, well, Neville-izes to a tee. But it comes off as too little too late. Aaron Neville would have just as much if not more appeal had he reworked these songs to suit his strengths. The voice is classic Neville, the arrangements are just too classic sounding though to make it work. It’s a promising idea, but an idea that probably would have been best left as much.
// Notes from the Road
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