Aaron Neville Delivers Best Album in Years With ‘Apache’
Versatile New Orleans soul legend Aaron Neville returns with his best album in years, ‘Apache.’
I love it when old folks flex. That sounded totally wrong. I meant what I said, but here’s some context. There’s nothing better than a veteran musician of a certain age who nails his/her new album. That’s the case with beloved New Orleans legend Aaron Neville. No one should ever have trouble identifying the distinct R&B musician who told us all to “Tell It Like It Is” in 1967. Latest LP Apache is terrific, making us remember Neville’s extraordinary musicianship.
“Be Your Man” kicks off Apache ferociously. Neville certainly doesn’t sound like he’s 75 years old. His signature distinct pipes remain fresh, sitting atop slick production. Guitars, accented horn riffs, and a killer groove makes the five-minute-plus opener a surefire standout. Prepare to be “funked the funk up!” #Pseudo Potty Mouth.
“All of the Above” keeps the momentum afloat without question. Though the tempo slackens, Neville remains dialed in. Neville’s sweet falsetto sounds sweeter than ever. The old school, New Orleans R&B may be considered anachronistic by some, but given the novelty of the once prevalent subgenre, it sounds refreshing.
“Orchid in the Storm” is oxymoronic – both smooth and funky. As always, Neville’s delicate pipes paints beautifully atop a lush canvas, aka soulful production. Keeping in line with familiarity artistically, Neville’s chivalrousness is highly respectable.
Four tracks in, Neville remains on autopilot. “Stompin’ Ground” gives brilliant opener “Be Your Man” a run for its money. A perfect match for the New Orleans legend, Neville speaks of his hometown with adoration and the utmost pride. Neville is a pro in this regard – some of his best songs celebrate New Orleans or home state Louisiana. No, “Stomping Ground” doesn’t supplant “The Grand Tour” or “Louisiana 1927,” but is a superb addition.
Following five relatively quick songs, the arrival of gospel-infused ballad “Heaven” feels right. Is “Heaven” a bit too slow and draggy? Perhaps, but Neville’s vocals are polished; stunning. The vamp section is another highlight.
“Hard to Believe” reinstates the funk, expectedly yet prudently. Even with a slightly quicker tempo, “Hard to Believe” sort of grooves, feeling “right in the pocket.” Neville never feels pushed, letting those pipes just relax with ease.
A similar lazy, funked-up groove graces follow-up “Ain’t Gonna Judge You,” with Neville exhibiting no shortage of confidence or swagger. Even so, Neville’s makes it clear, “if you don’t judge me / I ain’t gonna judge you!” Being non-judgmental has never felt more enthralling!
“It ain’t complicated / I wanna love you.” Sigh. Thoughtful, chivalrous, mid-tempo ballad “I Wanna Love You” fits the script perfectly. Like “Orchid in the Storm,” Neville reminds us that love (as opposed to hooking up) is still viable in 2016.
“Sarah Ann” takes Apache back to the 60s, maybe even the late 50s. Clearly from R&B’s early days, “Sarah Ann” reminisces back to Neville’s previous album, True Story. Even if “Sarah Ann” favors material from the past, like everything else, this is an original.
Two more songs finish off Apache: “Make Your Momma Cry” and “Fragile World.” “Make You Momma Cry” keeps it retro, though feel more 70’s than 50’s. “Fragile World” finds Neville mostly speaking, an appropriate departure for the closer.
All in all, Aaron Neville delivers his best album in years with Apache. Nothing on Apache supersedes Neville’s classics. However, the “old man” is flexing like a boss. Get it A.N.!
Gems: “Be Your Man,” “All of the Above,” “Stompin’ Ground”