Aaron Neville

If you’ve noticed, there has been a sudden flurry of Gospel projects from renowned soul artists over the past year. This includes Bobby Womack, Al Green (with a 'Best Of' set —see review), and Lou Rawls (due to drop his Gospel set on Malaco in 2001). Also on that list now is Aaron Neville.

Aaron Neville CDWith Devotion, the pop/country/R&B legend brings his New Orleans sound to a well-rounded collection of classics, some new and some old.

That sounds like the standard line for any mainstream artist splashing down into Gospel territory. From the start however, it is apparent that Neville is going beyond merely paying homage to his Gospel roots.

He sets the tone early, with a honest, heart-opening and attention-gathering piece of testimonial poetry (“Jesus Was A Friend of Mine”) at the album’s outset. Laying it on the line, Neville confesses that his lifestyle has hardly been exemplary, listing the tabloid tales (drugs, homelessness, lockdown) that have been reported over the years. Through it all, he acknowledges that he would not have survived had he not had a friend in Jesus. The sincerity of heart is palpable, and for the many who have Donnie McClurkin’s recent rendition of “We Fall Down” in their heads, it’s a recollection that ‘a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and got back up again’.

It goes a way to ease any apprehensions of Gospel listeners (who may wonder about the motivation for the project).

Neville proceeds to deliver a variety of beautiful arrangements. There’s no need to mention that he does this with his distinctively falsetto, floating vocals. Surely, this is a given. The support is quality-infused, with traditional old-style backing vocals from names such as Alvin Chea, Jackie Gouch-Farris and Phil Perry. Greg Phillinganes and Freddie Washington are among those serving up instrumentation.

With players such as these on board, Neville’s interpretation of “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Banks of Jordan” become standouts.

But there’s variety here too, with well-known covers of tunes such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”. Newcomer Rachel Lampa joins with Neville in sweet duet on the inspirational “There Is Still A Dream”, with The Nashville String Machine and Billy and Sarah Gaines and others in background. On “Singing You A Prayer”, father and son come together, as Ivan Neville’s gravelly vocals join with his father’s. CCM’s pop crewsome Avalon add backing vocals to “By Heart By Soul”.

On “Morning Has Broken”, Neville demonstrates that perhaps it his voice —of all that have interpreted this favorite over the years— is perhaps best suited to the song, honing straight into the vibe originally created by the tune’s composer, Cat Stevens.

A timeless album by a timeless singer, Aaron Neville’s Devotion is evident.

Producers: Steve Lindsey, Aaron Neville, others
album release date: September 26, 2000
EMI Gospel, Tell It Records

— reviewed by Stan North

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