Allen Toussaint featured on the New Aaron Neville C.D.
Put the name of New Orleans R&B singer Aaron Neville alongside those of Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy in your list of great Catholic artists of the past 100 years. Fifty years ago, on a session with legendary pianist Allen Toussaint, Neville’s achingly beautiful tenor voice launched a career that has, in the decades since, taken the singer from the top of the charts to the bottom of the barrel. On this record, again working with Toussaint, Neville and his angelic voice come home to rest in the everlasting arms of gospel music.
Neville grew up in a black Catholic family in New Orleans and says that his faith never wavered. But in the late 1960s, after his first great pop success, Neville fell into a heroin addiction that, he says, was cured through the intervention of St. Jude. That miracle cleared the way for an incredibly productive period in the 1970s and ’80s, both as a solo artist and as the main voice of The Neville Brothers.
On I Know I’ve Been Changed, Neville works with producer Joe Henry, who previously supervised comeback albums for some other legends—Solomon Burke, Mose Allison, and Toussaint himself. Henry strips away the orchestrated gloss that decorated much of Neville’s later solo work and puts him to work singing hard-core, old-time gospel standards such as “Stand By Me” and “I’m So Glad (Trouble Don’t Last)” with a bare-bones band consisting mostly of piano, guitar, bass, and drums.
Neville freely acknowledges that his voice is a gift from God. That attitude has led him to offer his music, unannounced and unheralded, during Mass at New Orleans churches. But he has also taken very good care of his gift. At age 69, the voice is as crystal-clear and supple as it was 30 years ago. Henry’s arrangements give that great instrument plenty of room to wander up and down the scales and in and out of his patented falsetto. The result is a roots-music masterpiece.