J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, December 22, 2008

NOLA Christmas: Aaron Neville at the House of Blues

On a downright chilly Sunday in New Orleans, an ode to winter like “Let it Snow” did not sound so out of place in the House of Blues. Of course, it was Aaron Neville singing, concluding his recent holiday tour. On home turf, he could have sold the adoring crowd any song, but he chose a repertoire largely drawn from Bring It On Home, his recent collection of soul standards, some holiday favorites from his two Christmas albums, and a few of his greatest hits.

Appearing years younger than a man who scored a number one hit in 1967, Neville’s expressive voice, often approaching falsetto range, is well suited to soul classics like “Stand By Me,” “A Change is Gonna Come,” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” They were songs specially chosen to express the pain and yearning in the aftermath of Katrina. Neville actually supported the CD with an appearance on the Young & the Restless soap opera. Watching the clip on youtube, the best acting clearly comes from Neville when he tells the characters how “proud” he is to appear at their club. His “Stand By Me” was a killer though, at the HOB last night and even on Y&R.

As for the Christmas carols, Neville performed enjoyable enough versions of “White Christmas” and “Let it Snow,” but it was the more soulful fare that was truly in his power zone. Neville’s “O Holy Night” is probably the best you will hear from a vocalist who does not come from an operatic background and his performance of the original “Christmas Prayer” was tender and heartfelt. Though not a Christmas song per se, Neville’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” (included in his encore medley) also hushed the hitherto ruckus HOB crowd.

Backing Neville was a quintet featuring his brother Charles on tenor and alto sax, accounting for half the musical Neville Brothers on the HOB stage. The Neville reedman had a few solo features of his own, including a very jazzy “Besame Mucho.” He has the jazz chops, having recorded his own solo project and appeared on progressive jazz sessions produced by Kip Hanrahan.

Of course, the leader also sang “Tell It Like It Is,” near the end of the night. While Neville has surely performed it thousands of times, he still brings a warm rich sound to his number one hit. Neville has a powerful presence in live performance and his mix of Christmas and R&B is a winning combination, particularly in front of the more-or-less hometown crowd. As a result, there was definitely some real holiday spirit going on in HOB last night.

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