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Time to get Re-Nevillized

22nd January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

The Neville vibrations fill the air in New Orleans this week with vocalist Aaron’s much-anticipated release, My True Story, hitting the market on Tuesday, January 22, saxophonist Charles playing a jazz gig at Snug Harbor on Friday, January 25, and The Nevilles getting down at Tipitina’s on Saturday, January 26.

The name change from the Neville Brothers to The Nevilles reflects the absence of Aaron Neville who has left the band to pursue his solo career. As they have for several gigs since Aaron’s announced departure last summer, The Nevilles – organist/vocalist Art, saxophonist Charles and percussionist/vocalist Cyril – have called in the next generation with Aaron’s son, keyboardist/vocalist Ivan and Art’s son guitarist Ian beefing up the band in a big way. Also onboard for the Tip’s gig are longtime Neville associates drummer “Mean” Willie Green and bassist Tony Hall.



“We’ve all played together before so I’m sure we’ll be able to come up with some funk especially with those Dumpsta Boys,” Charles Neville says with a laugh at the understatement.

It feels particularly right that the Neville vibe should be with us during Carnival season as for many people they have long been the sound of the Mardi Gras — the sound of the party. It’s also significant that The Nevilles take the stage to celebrate Tipitina’s 35th anniversary, an anniversary year they share with the club.

Tip’s opened on January 14, 1977 and it was there, at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue, that the Neville Brothers emerged and grew musically and in stature. At the urging of their uncle, Big Chief Jolly, the brothers started playing together in 1976 under the name of his Mardi Gras Indian gang, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, and performed at the 501 Club that would soon become the now-legendary music venue Tipitina’s. No other artist, other than Professor Longhair himself for whom the club was created, has been as closely associated with Tip’s as the Neville Brothers.

“There was some kind of energy that seemed to be part of the place,” Charles Neville ponders. “There was a very special vibe that affected both the musicians and the audience. It wasn’t just the music doing it. Maybe some of those hoodoo spirits were on that corner.

“We did some gigs with Jolly playing piano at Tipitina’s,” Charles continues while reflecting on the past. “One of the tunes he did there was “Shave ‘Em Dry” that Dr. John recorded. We’ve played all around the world, and that’s been always been my favorite place.”

Charles, who has long resided in Massachusetts, has been touring with his brother Aaron for the last several years including in support of the singer’s release My True Story. The album, on which Aaron brings his remarkably soulful tenor to a collection of doo-wop covers, stands as his debut on the prestigious Blue Note label. It was produced by the label’s president Don Was and Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards.

Doo-wop, a genre created on street corners in the 1950s by guys who loved to harmonize, is understandably a style close to Aaron’s heart as a singer who grew up in the era. For those who have listened – and adored – his first hit, “Tell It Like It Is,” it’s easy to imagine what Aaron can bring to ballads like Jesse Belvin’s 1956 classic “Goodnight My Love” (that incidentally had the 11-year-old Barry White on piano) and the disc’s title cut, “My True Story,” a chart-topper for the Jive Five in 1961.

This song, a heart-breaker, perfectly suits Aaron’s great range and emotional delivery. It’s difficult to imagine any other artist being able to stand to lead vocalist Eugene Pitt’s expressiveness and the ability to raise goose pimples.

Most of the tunes selected for the disc should be familiar to those of a certain age or younger audiences hip to the doo-wop era. Some cuts, like the Drifters’ 1964 hit, “Under the Boardwalk” and Little Anthony and the Imperials’ passionate 1958 release “Tears on My Pillow” may have also entered the general musical consciousness on their strength, longevity and perhaps through other media such as movies and television. Little Anthony, who remains in great voice, performed the song himself at last year’s Jazz Fest.

“Not too long after Aaron recorded the CD, we were playing Tokyo and there was a young audience,” Charles Neville recalls. “He did one of the tunes off the album, “Work with Me Annie,” by the Midnighters {Hank Ballard & the Midnighters,1954} and the Japanese kids were singing along with it. And I was thinking, ‘How in the hell do they know that song?’”

Charles agrees that American youths might not know the tunes or their lyrics from the disc, but during Aaron’s tour they appear to dig he music and dance to it.

Like in the days when these songs were heard via 45 rpm records with the big whole in the center, the track times remain in the two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half minute time frame. This, along with addition of background vocalists and simple arrangements, lends authenticity to numbers like the opening cut, the finger-snapping “Money Honey” made popular by the Drifters. Another strong tune on the disc and perhaps the least well-known is “Ting A Ling,” which was released by The Clovers in 1952 and moves with a unique beat.

At the center of My True Story is the great voice of Aaron Neville doing songs that he loves.

That Aaron’s voice won’t be heard with his siblings in the Neville Brothers is surely regrettable and marks the end of an era. Lives and careers, however, go on. With Art, Cyril and Charles, The Nevilles – and hey, we always called them that anyway – the songs and the New Orleans sound are assured to remain vital. Art continues to play with the funky Meters and Cyril is involved with many projects including leading his own band, Cyril Neville and Tribe 13.

Jazz has long been a passion for Charles, who, beyond touring with Aaron, leads his own group performing mainly at gigs near his home in western Massachusetts and in Boston where he’ll be playing on Mardi Gras. At Snug Harbor he’s teaming with friends he’s played with for years — pianist Larry Sieberth, bassist Chris Severin and drummer Julian Garcia.

“All of them are really great musicians and always inspirational,” says Charles of these New Orleans jazz artists. “They always push me. We’ll be doing standards and some of my originals and some funk stuff too. “Of course, we’ve got to play some ‘Sissy Strut.’”

It will seem odd that the Neville Brothers won’t be closing out the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest this year. Instead, The Nevilles will perform on Sunday, April 28, and Aaron will lead his own quintet closing the Gentilly Stage on Sunday, 5.

Things change but all is well in Nevilleland.

This article was originally published in the January 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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