SOUL IS KEY TO NEVILLE’S GUMBO

> NEW OR­LEANS ICON TO PER­FORM WITH OR­CHES­TRA FOR U OF M GALA

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Bob Mehr mehr@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

AARON NEVILLE is best known for his feath­erlight falsetto, his cat­a­log of pop hits and his work with his broth­ers, as part of New Or­leans’ “first fam­ily of funk,” but don’t try to pin him down creatively.

“I don’t want to be pi­geon­holed in one form of mu­sic,” Neville says.

“I mean, if you name it, I’ve done it — every­thing ex­cept rap. I’ve done pop, rock, R&B, doo-wop, gospel, coun­try. I even sang Mickey Mouse. I did a doo-wop ver­sion of the ‘Mickey Mouse March’ with Dr. John play­ing key­boards. I also sang with Ernie on ‘Sesame Street,’” Neville says with a chuckle.

Tonight, Neville will be show­cas­ing his so­phis­ti­cated side, per­form­ing a con­cert backed by the Univer­sity of Mem­phis Sym­phony Or­ches­tra. The show will serve as the kick­off to the U of M’s year­long cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion.

These days, Neville re­sides in New York, though he main­tains a house in his na­tive Louisiana. “Mostly, I stay on tour, re­ally,” he says, “I just come home to wash clothes and stuff.”

Neville says the mu­sic of the Cres­cent City re­mains the foun­da­tion of his eclec­tic ap­proach. “New Or­leans is fa­mous for gumbo — just a mix of dif­fer­ent ingredients. I’ve picked up things from the Mardi Gras In­dian beats, from the sec­ond-line brass bands. The way peo­ple walk in New Or­leans, you walk with a dip, like a sec­ond-line dip. The way peo­ple talk: ‘Where ya at?’ They got their own lan­guage,” says Neville.

“Plus, it’s a place where you have, like, Fats Domino, Dr. John, James Booker, Pro­fes­sor Long­hair, Satchmo, Louis Prima, Al Hirt — all them dudes, it’s such a rich mu­si­cal environment. I was blessed to be born in New Or­leans and grew up around all those peo­ple, lis­ten­ing to them and get­ting things from them.”

Mu­sic was al­ways Neville’s call­ing, even though his ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions got put on hold early

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on. “I was 17 when I got mar­ried, so I had to take care of fam­ily and play mu­sic on the week­ends,” he says. “I wasn’t play­ing for no money, I was play­ing just ’cause I loved it. I had to work on the docks, load­ing cargo ships, driv­ing a truck or paint­ing houses. I’ve done all kinds of things. But mu­sic has al­ways been the sal­va­tion.”

For Neville, in re­cent years, that sal­va­tion has come in the form of gospel. Since 2000, Neville has re­leased a trio of spir­i­tual al­bums (as well as two Christ­mas LPs), in­clud­ing last year’s Joe Henry-pro­duced ef­fort,

Sarah A. Fried­man

Af­ter record­ing a trio of spir­i­tual re­leases in re­cent years, Aaron Neville plans to ful­fill a life­time am­bi­tion of mak­ing a doo-wop al­bum.

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