AARON NEVILLE / “Mickey Mouse March”
The good. The bad. The beautiful. The ugly. Mix it all up. Stir it in the pot. What you got? New Orleans—where everything is one thing. So hard it will make you go soft just thinking about it; try to leave and New Orleans will make you harden your heart to dealing with the soft of any place else, ‘cause all you want is to be in New Orleans, even when the Big Easy is making it hard to be easy with what’s going down. New Orleans. My home. Born, bred and hope to die in the arms of a city that don’t care about nothing or no one except enjoying life regardless of the dirt, downsides, despair and drownings of life. Down here we have singers who embody New Orleans to the N-th degree. New Orleans orchids that don’t grow no where else. Archetypical of those type of artists is Mr. Aaron Neville. He looks like somebody some might think it prudent to avoid, until his voice embraces you and you just melt into the comfort of his sound. The cognitive dissonance of sight and sound. Whatever you think an angel looks like, it’s probably not like Aaron and yet, there can be no mistake, your ears are accurate: he is an angel. He and his (The Neville) Brothers have an awesome repertoire that ranges from Black Mardi Gras Indian songs to Christian liturgy, new anthems of social commentary to traditional New Orleans’ melodies. Whether it’s the lake, the river, the bayou or a backyard pool, they cover the waterfront like perhaps no other band, especially because no other band has a lead singer like this evacuee from heaven called Aaron Neville. Here Aaron does his thing in covering R&B (with the exception of the last song which is simultaneously bizarre and beautiful: “The Mickey Mouse March"). “For Your Precious Love” is a Jerry Butler classic. One of the ultimate love songs immortalized by Butler’s baritone, Aaron lays it out like an autumn evening after the rain; rarified air, pastel purple painted across the horizon with varying shades of midnight blue bans pushing down from the oncoming night sky. Aaron could challenge any baritone singer you might name, that's how deep his bottom is but on “For Your Precious Love” Aaron uses his inimitable falsetto. Other than Mr. bulter himself, I don't believe anyone has recorded a better version. And speaking of baritone, Aaron positively revels in this reading of Brook Benton’s classic “Rainy Night In Georgia.” Check out those glorious low notes. The muted trumpet of Chris Botti offers tart support, reinforcing the blue message of the song. “Dock Of The Bay” is one of the songs that everybody loves and few people choose to cover because it is so distinctive and so associated with Otis that it’s hard to do anything original with it. But Aaron ain’t scared. They break the rhythm shuffle into a train sound with the bass and high hat and muffled tom tom, and then drop the classic New Orleans trumpet solo written by Harold Battiste for the Barbara George “I Know” 1961 hit. It’s both typical and great: typical for how New Orleans musicians make everything into a New Orleans song and great in that in localizing the song, Aaron Neville figures out a way to cover Otis in an original way. “Everybody Plays The Fool” takes Jellyroll Morton’s advice and adds the latin tinge to the rhythm. Indeed, there’s almost (but not quite) a reggae groove. It just sounds dancing good. Doo wop. “The Ten commandments of Love.” This is the hand that Aaron fans with. He can do this in his sleep. Take a well-worn piano riff, soft strings, and over dubbed vocals, mix with a light touch and what you end up with is “doo pop” until you get to the out chorus where it ends on a straight up, male vocal group harmonizing. Sam Cooke’s “Darling You Send Me” is another song that was originally produced by Harold Battiste. At first blush this may seem like the most conventional arrangement of the bunch but not really. There is a slight three/four feel and an electric piano to spice up the flow. This is really a warm-up number, something the band plays while the audience is still trooping in; yaknow, about 10:10pm for the ten o’clock set. “Let’s Stay Together” featuring Chaka Khan. I don’t know what Aaron told Chaka but this is as close so soft and sensitive as I’ve heard Chaka sing. This one's for the old folks, for the mens and womens (like me) who was young adults when the song first came out. Nothing spectacular, everything copasetic. “Save The Last Dance For Me” is a Doc Pomus song immortalized by Ben E. King. Again, Aaron has that understated Latin thing going. You know how to cha-cha-cha? The Neville Brothers have a justifiably acclaimed version of "A Change Is Gonna Come" on their Yellow Moon album. This version however is solo Aaron from Bring It On Home… The Soul Classics; indeed, half of the ten songs in this Aaron Neville set are from the same album. I guess you could say I’m strongly recommending Bring It On Home. That three/four thing sneaks back in on this arrangement with the bass guitar emphasizing the waltz feel. While this version does not surpass the one with the brothers, nevertheless this one is well worth hearing. I know some of you might think I’m crazy but my feature pick is the “Mickey Mouse March” from the Orchid In The Storm album. Aaron is an absolute magician on this number. He takes a quintessential piece of juvenilia and raises it to the highest levels of deeply felt love songs. Plus the doo wop arrangement is killing. There is not a trace of sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek. Aaron's treatment is so reverent that you would think this was one of the most serious songs ever written. Well, that’s my man Aaron Neville. That’s new Orleans. You hear that? That’s what I’m talking about. Hell (nor heaven), ain’t no place else you gonna hear sounds like this.
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