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Aaron Neville - Devotion Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 September 2000

format: CD
label: EMI Gospel/Tell It Records
release year: 2000
performance: 7
sound 8.5
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

ImageWe have not reviewed much gospel music on, but this album caught my attention for one reason: the recording quality on the vocals. This is the first all-gospel recording from Aaron Neville, the large-framed, tattooed Creole with the tender vibrato voice that is unmistakable. His vocal range and delivery are so unique that I find it amazing such a big man can produce such delicate vocal tones. This recording captures all of the subtle nuances in his voice, from loud moments, when he is singing his praises to the Lord, to the quietest passages when his voice is at a whisper. An album of vocal-based gospel music is the perfect venue to showcase Neville’s voice. Co-producer Steve Lindsey and engineer Gabe Veltri have captured it with amazing clarity and resolution.

Born in the Deep South of New Orleans in 1941, Aaron Neville grew up with gospel music as a fundamental part of his life. In the album’s liner notes, he talks of going to church with his family and how much those memories of singing gospel music means to him. For the last decade and a half, Neville has paired up with Tte Zion Harmonizers to sing gospel music at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He decided to take this a step further and the result is his first gospel album, Devotion.

The opening track "Mary Don’t You Weep" with its doo-wop vocals is where the album shines. With four performers on backup vocals and minimal instrumentation, Neville and the other singers’ voices are recorded so well that even those who aren’t fans of gospel music will appreciate how good this song – and, indeed, the whole album - sounds.

There are mainly spiritual standards on the album and some original compositions, such as "Jesus Is a Friend of Mine" and "What Would Jesus Do?", as well as a stirring and powerful rendition of Simon and Garfunkle’s of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." My own familiarity with this song, and the excellent performance of it, make this cover my favorite track on Devotion. This is one of the more ambitious arrangements on the album, with keyboards, horns, saxophones and a multitude of backup vocalists, all in stark contrast to the simplicity of the original version.

Aaron Neville’s son Ivan joins him for a duet on the song "Singing You a Prayer" and it is apparent that the musical gene runs in the Neville family. Ivan doesn’t have his brother’s vibrato or wide range, but his voice is just as soulful and the two of them complement each other nicely. There are two other duets on Devotion: "There is Still a Dream" with Rachel Lampa and "By Heart, By Soul" with guest vocals by Avalon. I had never heard of these artists before as I don’t follow gospel music too closely, but they are both excellent and their vocal parts are both welcome additions to the album.

Some of the musical performances on Devotion sound a little too slick. Slickness is not a quality I tend to associate with gospel music, but the vocals are what make this album more than just another gospel record. In the liner notes, it states that the album was mixed in Studio A at 5.1 Entertainment in Los Angeles. Perhaps when Christmas rolls around, we will see a 5.1 version of Devotion hit the market. As good as the album sounds in two-channel, I would love to hear it in 5.1.

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