It’s been fifty short years since the recording of Aaron Neville’s hit single, ‘Tell It Like It Is’. Father Time has been good to the acclaimed R & B vocalist, who graced Chicago City Winery’s stage, after pianist Michael Goods ran through a polished litany of American classics.

Neville, celebrating his 75th birthday, has magically retained the sincerity and warmth that first attracted fans to that irresistible recording. Since that time, the effusive artist has become a multiple Grammy winner, seasoned poet and devoted rebuilder of his native New Orleans, where his own home was sadly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005—Neville now lives in New York.

The generous set—performed on the second night of his long-awaited Chicago engagement—was custom designed for lovers, back beat boomers and and cultural historians. The audience included back-in-the-day revelers and youthful Neville newbies. Casually attired and adorned with jewels, he handled the microphone with ease as he sat comfortably in front of an electric keyboard, as Goods punctuated each song with equal ease and passion, incorporating blues licks, stride and semi-classical touches.

Neville spent more than thirty years performing with the Neville Brothers (Cyril, Charles and Art). That famous sibling team is currently on hiatus, however each brother has forged a unique and successful career. As for Aaron Neville, he has enjoyed fame as a soloist and with many collaborators, including vocalist Linda Ronstadt —their duet ‘Don’t Know Much’ is an American classic.

Part of Neville’s appeal, too, is his ability to relate well to a seated crowd in an intimate setting. Neville was enthusiastic about each song selection, and when appropriate, peppered each pause with a relevant comment about the song itself, the back story which inspired it or his feelings about the current state of the world. Twice, he read original poems pertaining to racial injustice occurring outside the venue walls and our society’s need to unite, after which he seamlessly started another ballad.

Neville, of course, had no problem finding endearing material with which to fill his set. In 2005, he released ‘Bring It On Home…The Soul Classics’, featuring the 1963 gem ‘It’s All Right’. In 2013, he released ‘My True Story’ (Blue Note Records), which was co-produced by Don Was and Keith Richards. The twelve-song album includes tried and trues like shuffle ‘Money Honey’ (also recorded by Elvis Presley and Little Richard), ‘This Magic Moment’, which Neville ices with ‘True Love’ in his act, The Drifters’ ‘Under the Boardwalk’, ‘Tears on My Pillow’ (famously recorded by Anthony Gourdine’ of Little Anthony and the Imperials, Sha Na Na, twenty years later in 1978 and Kylie Minogue in 1989) and ‘Be My Baby’ (the Phil Spector smash recorded by The Ronettes).

More recently, the Grammy Hall of Famer released ‘Apache,’ which celebrates his poetry through music. Fortunately, the ample performance time —there was no opening act- allowed such soaring elements to merge. Those accustomed to Neville on his fleshed-out recordings might have felt something was missing from this unplugged set, but. in general, it was delightful to see two accomplished men draw deep emotion from their said instruments.

This Friday night performance was a gilded chance to enjoy great American lyrics. “Oh, when the sun goes down,” crooned Neville, as the piano hinted Latin during ‘Under The Boardwalk’. Soon another sense exploded: “You can almost taste the hot dogs and French fries they sell…”

Neville wrapped his silky, signature falsetto around ‘There Goes My Baby’ and also enjoyed weaving ‘Chain Gang’ and ‘Stand by Me’ into the mix. He glanced around the room. “Back when the kids were innocent, remember that?” More than once, Neville sang all the parts, incorporating backing vocals and doo wop transitions.

“I’ve got so many songs, I don’t know what to do next,” he said, scanning the room for consensus. And then, with the enthuse of a reader solving a Holmes mystery, he stated, “I’ll do all of them.” He then tore into one of many “magic moments.”

Goods switched to a strings setting for the enigmatic ‘Mona Lisa’ and poignantly provided elegant touches throughout the elusive, ‘When I Fall in Love’. Beats rapidly shifted for ‘Save the Last Dance’. Neville’s smile grew brighter as the rhythms ramped up, before that first poem. He paced himself well through Bob Dylan and John Lennon cover and then changed up and charges up ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. His rubato rendition of ‘Killing Me Softly’ was tenderly executed. And when a server unexpectedly broke a wine glass, he used the moment to check in with his audience.

Neville’s country sentiments gracefully unfurled as he sang, ‘Lay your Head Upon My Pillow’ and Randy Newman’s ‘Louisiana’, not surprisingly, seemed to touch him deeply. His poem, ’75 and Still Alive’ gave us another appreciative glimpse into his personal life.

But the night also featured lighter moments. Neville’s whimsical interpretation of ‘Love Potion No. 9’ tributed American songwriting team, Lieber and Stoller. And ‘Yellow Moon’, reminded us of how well those Neville Brothers swayed and harmonized.

But perhaps the pin drop moment came when Neville ambled into a sultry version of ‘Tell It Like It Is’. His voice showed absolutely no wear and tear after all these years. It was sublime. The night ended with the ceremonial ‘Amazing Grace’ and doo wop wonder ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’. At seventy-five, Aaron Neville didn’t merely win over City Winery’s patrons, but he triumphed. And that’s something to celebrate.


Photos by Philamonjaro
www.philamonjaro.com















Related Links:

http://aaronneville.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Neville
https://twitter.com/aaronneville
https://www.facebook.com/aaronneville50


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