Aaron Neville – My True Story

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Back in 1985, Aaron Neville offered fans a glimpse of his love of doo wop with the EP Orchid in the Storm. Over a quarter-century later, he returns to it on My True Story. Doo wop pre-dates rock & roll. Its reliance on the human voice in group harmony communicates not only melody but rhythm, and influenced the sounds of Motown, Stax, and early rock & roll. Even Frank Zappa claimed it as a prime influence. Co-produced by Keith Richards and Blue Note label boss Don Was, the dozen tunes here make prime use of Neville’s voice, placing his high, smooth, vulnerable tenor way up front; he is backed by vintage-era doo wop singers and an all-star band that includes Richards and Greg Leisz on guitars, Benmont Tench on keyboards, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer George R. Receli. Lenny Pickett helps out on horns and winds on a number of tracks as well. The production is clean, the musical backing used more as texture and color than as real support — Neville and his vocalists offer all the impetus needed to pull this off (indeed one wonders what this set might have sounded like a cappella). The tunes are all classics. Standouts include Lieber & Stoller’s “Ruby Baby,” a medley of Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman’s “This Magic Moment” and “True Love,” Hank Ballard’s “Work with Me Annie” (featuring a guest appearance from Art Neville on B-3), Sylvester Bradford’s and Al Lewis’ “Tears on My Pillow,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman.” The latter marries doo wop to early Chicago soul, and Neville celebrates this in his reading. “Be My Baby,” which will forever be associated with the Ronettes and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, is stripped back to the source music that inspired its authors, Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, and Spector — even when adding a Pickett flute solo to the chart. Ultimately, My True Story is a smooth, mostly laid-back, and soulful recording by Neville. He provides a healthy — sometimes overly — reverential respect for the original material. Coupled with his vocals, these restrained yet imaginative arrangements offer some surprising twists and turns.

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