Music Review: Neville a heavenly match for gospel tunes

Aaron Neville, “I Know I’ve Been Changed” (Tell It Records)

Aaron Neville singing gospel music is a match made in heaven, and the Lord had an assist from producer Joe Henry and pianist Allen Toussaint on “I Know I’ve Been Changed.”

Henry wisely went with sparse arrangements that put the focus on Neville’s velvety vibrato. Toussaint — who happened to produce Neville’s first recording session 50 years ago — gives these spiritual standards a lively pulse with his deft touch. The song selection is astute, with material from such disparate sources as Odetta, Merle Travis, Mississippi Fred McDowell and the 19th century (“Oh Freedom”).

Like Henry, Neville realizes less can be more, and he sings with economy and delicacy. Understated doesn’t mean subdued: The songs swing, and there’s a lot going on here. For example, the title cut combines a gospel piano, country guitar, Stax organ and blues structure, showing how gospel cross-pollinates with other genres.

There’s no rap, though — only rapture.

CHECK THIS OUT: Neville needs little time to warm up. He never oversings, but at the start of the opening cut, “Stand By Me,” he does caress one blissful syllable for more than a dozen notes.


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