Aaron Neville

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Apache Review

by Andy Kellman

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.

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