- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2006 1 Aug
It's almost impossible to write about Aaron Neville without pointing out that his life and music dance nimbly within worlds that can seem contradictory. After all, he's got the body of a linebacker and the effortless falsetto of a choirboy. The sword tattooed on his left cheek seems balanced by the Christ on his right arm and the emblem of St. Jude dangling from his left ear. Neville has faced the pinnacle of musical success and the low of drug addiction and despair within the same lifetime. And the New Orleans native's unforgettable vocal style incorporates influences from folk, pop, country, soul, and R&B along the continuum between the gritty soulful sound of Sam Cooke and the agile yodel of cowboy Gene Autry.
So it's no surprise that like
The album begins with "Steer Me Right," a calypso-flavored, brass-infused prayer for guidance written by Neville, his wife, and several members of the Neville Brothers band. The lyrics
include: "I keep prayin' I'll find wisdom / And the strength to
carry on / Oh Lord, be my helper / Let Thy will in my life be done."
Neville's "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," which gospel enthusiasts will
recognize from Helen Baylor's recent album
Neville's sensitive cover of the title track, "I Believe," is an optimistic, wistful declaration of hope that joy withstands and grows out of life's painful experiences. Here, his voice floats gently above warm, sweet background vocals. "If I Had a Hammer" in which Neville is joined by the Sandtown Children's Choir, is a similarly hopeful track.
Other outstanding covers include a soaring interpretation of Edwin Hawkins's gospel standard "Oh Happy Day" backed by a crisp, warm choir; a determined, almost sermonic visitation of Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody;" Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and Hank Williams's "I Saw the Light," featuring the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He also presents two songs that have become staples of his concerts: A reverent, almost shy rendition of "Ave Maria" over choir and orchestra, and "Amazing Grace," where his trademark vocal agility is showcased.
If you enjoy Neville's voice and the several genres of music in which he's made a name for himself, and if you appreciate the common roots of these musical forms, this album is a great listen. And if you know of him primarily through hits like 1966's "Tell It Like It Is" and his duet with Linda Ronstadt "Don't Know Much," you'll find Neville's musical presentation of how faith informs his life to be a powerful one.