Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Aaron Neville

  • Orchid in the Storm [Rhino EP, 1985] B+
  • Make Me Strong [Charly, 1986] A-
  • The Classic Aaron Neville: My Greatest Gift [Rounder, 1990] A-
  • Bring It on Home . . . The Soul Classics [Burgundy, 2006] **
  • I Know I've Been Changed [EMI Gospel/Tell It, 2010] A-
  • My True Story [Blue Note, 2013] ***

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Orchid in the Storm [Rhino EP, 1985]
In which Joel Dorn lets the eerie, quavering shimmer and imperturbable naturalness of Aaron's falsetto run, drift, float, or soar with six '50s covers. The singer avoids the overstated Russell Thompkins mode more wanly than necessary, but with teen dreams from Johnny Ace and the Penguins turned into the essence of timeless romance, the sublimely silly "Ten Commandments of Love" sounds like dictation from Mount Sinai. B+

Make Me Strong [Charly, 1986]
Produced between 1968 and 1975 by Allen Toussaint, every song here stiffed if it got released at all, yet taken together they constitute a classic singer's album as well as the ideal testament to Toussaint's spacey romanticism. The unhurried tempos often do without Toussaint's piano, but Neville's buttery tenor captures the spirituality that Lee Dorsey's waggishness obscured and Toussaint's bare vocal competence doomed to limbo. A-

The Classic Aaron Neville: My Greatest Gift [Rounder, 1990]
With his status as a stylist established, it's time to mention that he's too stylized. Is "Love Letters" "Love Letters," or is it a medium-tempo falsetto-melisma standard not unlike "Cry Me a River"? The call is too close. But nowhere in his grab bag of ad hoc albums is interchangeability less an issue than on this improved version of Charly's Make Me Strong. From jaunty stevedore plaint to dope-defeated lament, Allen Toussaint writes to the singer's experience and produces to his strengths--which you'd best believe are stronger (and more experienced) than some gravel-voiced rough boy's. A-

Bring It on Home . . . The Soul Classics [Burgundy, 2006]
Finally, repertoire worthy of his voice/shtick ("Rainy Night in Georgia," "Respect Yourself"). **

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-

My True Story [Blue Note, 2013]
Doowop neoclassicism so loving and exquisite it lacks but one crucial virtue--innocence ("My True Story," "Ting a Ling") ***