Although Aaron Neville is often compared to singer Sam Cooke in terms of sheer vocal refinement, he has a voice and style uniquely his own. He is well known as part of the New Orleans sound of the Neville Brothers. Yet, aside from the 1967 number one R&B hit "Tell It Like It Is," few have heard his incredible early solo recordings. Many of those first recordings, in the early and mid-'60s, were arranged, produced, and often written by the brilliant Allen Toussaint -- another talent only later being really appreciated. Most of these sides were cut for the Minit and, later, Parlo labels. Songs like "She Took You for a Ride" and "You Think You're So Smart" on Parlo are masterpieces. While his later work, including that with Linda Ronstadt, makes for pleasant listening, it lacks the sheer persuasion of his early songs. Neville has re-recorded his early work often, and it is important to hear the originals. The early sides are just waiting to be heard.
He has ventured more into other waters besides R&B -- 1993's The Grand Tour included a remake of a George Jones song that got Neville a little country attention, and in 1994 he announced plans to do a complete country album. He was also one of several R&B artists who teamed with country stars for the Rhythm Country and Blues session. Neville was paired with Trisha Yearwood, and the duo also performed together in a benefit concert for the LP held in Los Angeles in April 1994. The LP made history by debuting in the Top Ten on the pop, R&B, and country charts. Tattooed Heart appeared in 1995 and To Make Me Who I Am in 1997 on A&M Records. Increasingly, Neville was drawn to his gospel roots, and the influence of the genre shows in his solo projects. Devotion and Believe were released in 2000 and 2003, respectively, by Tellit Records. Nature Boy: The Standards Album came out on Verve in 2002, and the holiday album Christmas Prayer was issued by EMI Gospel in 2005. Neville kicked off the next year by singing the national anthem at Super Bowl XL, followed by the release of Mojo Soul, a collection of some of his singles from the late '60s and early '70s with producers Marshall Sehorn and Allen Toussaint, and Bring It on Home...The Soul Classics, which featured guests Chaka Khan and Mavis Staples, among others. This was followed by his gospel album, I Know I've Been Changed in 2010. In January, 2013, Neville released My True Story, his debut album for Blue Note Records. The set was a collection of doo wop covers, and was co-produced by Keith Richards and Don Was. It proved to be the highest charting album of Neville's solo career to that point, eventually landing at number seven on the R&B charts.
In 2016, Neville announced a 75th birthday show at the Apollo Theater that also marked the 50th anniversary of the release of "Tell It Like It Is." He also entered Brooklyn's Studio G with producer/guitarist Eric Krasno, and a band that included David Guy and Cochemea Gastelum (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings), Ryan Zoidis (Lettuce, Soulive), and Eric Bloom (Blue Öyster Cult, Lettuce). They cut an uncharacteristically uptempo, hard-edged R&B set. The single "Be Your Man" was previewed in June of 2016. The album, Apache, was released in July by the artist's Tell It Records via Kobalt Label Services. ~ Michael Erlewine & Ron Wynn