Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Aaron Neville: I Know I've Been Changed [EMI Gospel/Tell It, 2010]
I'm glad Mavis Staples won her Grammy. She's a generous talent with a brave history. But where her civil rights-themed 2007 We'll Never Turn Back is a perfect Grammy-type record, You Are Not Alone is standard-issue Mavis with Jeff Tweedy cachet: soul as grit plus conviction. Even at that, though, I figured it to outshine a devotional album concocted by angelic-in-voice-mostly Aaron Neville and minister of good taste without portfolio Joe Henry, and I was wrong big-time. As a devout backslider, I knew nothing of Neville's previous "spiritual" collections, and found myself impressed by 2000's Devotion until choirs and such butted in. But here Henry's taste prevails, and it's all good: a transcendent groove record in which Neville's high-end shtick is shaped by Allen Toussaint at his subtle best and Chris Bruce doing Pop Staples's holy work. Neville never strains for effect--a Roman Catholic who thanks St. Jude in the booklet, he sounds completely at home with every Protestant word he utters. You don't have to believe in Jesus to believe in faith, not with a higher power emanating from your speakers. All that's missing is Pops himself. Anybody ready to mash up a remix? A-