Three years after the release of My Story, his lone album for Blue Note, Aaron Neville relaunched the Tell It label (through Kobalt) with the very different Apache. In a way, it's among his freshest and yet also one of his oldest-sounding solo albums. Surprisingly, the compositions are strictly originals, all written by Neville with producer and multi-instrumentalist Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce) and Dave Gutter (Rustic Overtones). Featuring a thoroughly organic sound rooted in late-'60s/early-'70s R&B, like something that would have come out around the same time as the deep classic "Hercules," it's retro-cast from front to back, and Neville himself is frequently nostalgic. The songs are dealt out in a variety of modes, however, while the lyrical themes are universal and timeless -- in some cases, as on "Fragile World," unfortunately so. The album opens in dramatic, pure Blaxploitation style -- gnashing cyclical rhythms, flashy horn stabs, and all -- with Neville assuring devotion through turbulence. Themes of perseverance and reflective self-improvement recur in sweat-drenched ballads and rolling grooves alike. The songs that resonate most tend to be those that are most obviously drawn from Neville's life -- the strutting New Orleans tribute "Stompin Ground" and the backward-glancing lament "Make Your Momma Cry" among them. Just ahead of the latter is another highlight, "Sarah Ann"; on My True Story, Neville performed a medley of songs popularized by the Drifters, and here, he keeps the group's spirit alive with a redemptive, grateful ballad about his wife. Apache could have easily slid into uninvolving sentimentality, but each song works some combination of the heart, mind, and hips.
by Andy Kellman