Aaron Neville

I Know I've Been Changed

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Aaron Neville, at 69 years of age, marks 50 years of recording with his 2010 gospel album, I Know I've Been Changed, employing as part of his backup band the producer of his first session back in 1960, Allen Toussaint. This is a traditional gospel set, full of familiar old songs and spirituals, and Toussaint's piano, redolent of New Orleans R&B, is the dominant musical instrument in the small-band arrangements of tracks produced by Joe Henry. Henry has gone for an easygoing, rootsy sound, the better to support Neville's immediately identifiable high-tenor vocals, which, as usual, break into expressive falsetto notes at unexpected moments. Many of these songs are usually heard as rave-ups to stir the faithful from their pews, but Neville, making his first gospel recording since 2003's Believe, and thus his first since Hurricane Katrina, is naturally a singer full of vulnerability rather than triumph, and there is often a mournful tone to the performances. One exception is the version of "You Got to Move," which, paced by Toussaint's rolling pattern, is given more buoyancy than it sometimes has. But that is followed by a slow, mournful "Oh Freedom," a reading that places emphasis on its chorus, "Before I'd be a slave/I'd be buried in my grave/And go home to my Lord/And be free." It would be easy to imagine the displaced residents of the Ninth Ward singing along with Neville on "I'm So Glad," a song with a deceptively cheery title, "I'm so glad that trouble don't last always," adding "Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?" An answer might be to have faith, which seems to be the conclusion of the next and final song, "There's a God Somewhere." On I Know I've Been Changed, Neville seems to be imploring God to come back to New Orleans.

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