Aaron Neville


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Seems amazing that Aaron Neville, given the commercial dimensions of "Tell It Like It Is," all but disappeared off the recording map for the next decade before the Neville Brothers' band took off. Hercules looks like it could shed might shed more comprehensive light on that early-'70s void (and be a companion piece to brother Art's Mardi Gras Rock & Roll compilation on Ace) but it doesn't really turn the trick.

The disc is equally divided between pre- and post-hit periods, with a later version of "Tell It Like It Is" that features more of his trademark fancy vocal filigrees as the dividing line. (It's not as good as the original, but then how can you improve on perfection?) The early-'60s material includes anthology favorites like "Over You," "Wrong Number," "Waiting at the Station," and "Let's Live" that never wear out their welcome, and a couple of less familiar up-tempo romps in "Get Out of My Life" and "Hey Little Alice," the latter one of few original songs by Aaron Neville to ever surface.

The limber "Strutting on Sunday" clearly announces a shift to more sophisticated arrangements and the modern soul era, but the transition isn't jarring, given the continuity provided by both Neville's voice and Allen Toussaint's production style. "Make Me Strong" is recognizably Toussaint circa the early '70s, and the title track -- its street life saga the one break from love songs -- aims for the "Freddie's Dead"/"Superfly" zone and largely gets there with bass riffs and timbales flurries.

But things sag badly after that, except for a good version of brother Art's Specialty hit "All These Things" to wrap things up. "Been So Wrong" nosedives into sappy pop with cluttered strings and horns that are way too cloying. "Greatest Love" is a better effort in that vein, but the standard "Cry Me a River" sounds like a naked jazz demo with electric guitar and bass, minimal drums, and too many Aaron vocal flourishes. Still, it's far better than "Been So Wrong." Hercules ultimately promises more than it delivers. It's not a bad collection, but given the easy access to the earliest material on other anthologies and the spottiness of the later songs, it's not essential, either.

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