|Aaron Neville - Devotion|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 24 October 2000|
Suddenly I seem to be giving everyone high marks for their DVD-Audio discs, and this is not entirely unconnected to the fact that I have been reviewing a lot of product from DTS and Silverline recently. Both companies are producing tremendous pieces of work. This album is no exception – in fact, it is probably one of the most moving albums I have ever reviewed.
It’s another high-quality release from 5.1 Entertainment, the people who brought you "Rumours" in surround and loads more. The disc is a DVD Audio/Video release with DTS, Dolby Digital surround and two-channel (Pro Logic-compatible) streams, plus a MLP DVD-Audio stream. The latter offers 24/96 surround quality, way ahead of the Dolby perceptually-coded version and somewhat better than DTS.
This is a marvelous album in surround, but quite honestly, it would move you on a pair of cocoa tins linked by a piece of string. Aaron Neville is possibly best known as a member of the New Orleans-based Neville Brothers, but this album is specifically a gospel album, his first. It is astonishing to me that such a big, muscular man could have such a kind, gentle, uplifting voice. While we would without doubt call ourselves "spiritual" people, my partner and I would not regard ourselves as traditional Christians, yet this album consistently moved both of us to tears for its deep, meaningful treatment of a collection of songs from the whole range of the genre and well beyond.
There are several traditional pieces here, including "Mary Don’t You Weep," "Banks of the River Jordan," "Were You There" and "Jesus Loves Me," along with a couple of songs that Neville gets a co-writing credit for, but there are also arrangements of well-known songs that can be interpreted, one way or another, in a spiritual sense. Songs like "Morning Has Broken," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and particularly "Let It Be" lend themselves easily to this interpretation, and the gospel arrangements are impossible to resist –not that one would want to. At the time I first heard this album, I was rehearsing "Let It Be" to perform with my neighbor’s band, and Neville’s warm, sincere and moving treatment deeply affected my own interpretation of the song.
The original stereo version of this album was released in 2000, and the DVD differs significantly from it, with 13 tracks to the CD’s 12, a different running order, one track from the CD omitted and two new ones added – one of these being "Let It Be," which I would not have missed for the world. Neville and the band largely occupy the front stage, establishing a firm foundation for the surround picture, while the choir comes in from either side of the surrounds, and on occasion from elsewhere.
The arrangements, the superb performances – my favorite is the duet with Avalon, "By Heart, By Soul" – the choice of material, surround mixes so smooth and beautifully-handled that the technology simply melts away to leave you with the music, and above all, Neville’s voice that simply makes my hair stand on end for its beauty and emotion … these are the hallmarks of a simply terrific album.
And that’s not all. There’s over an hour of video footage in two documentaries: one of interviews with Neville around the songs on the album, plus people who are important in his life, both in his family and in New Orleans, and the other of Neville visiting Louisiana’s Angola Penitentiary.
I suppose you could be put off if you are completely unmoved by the genre or if you have no spiritual threads in your life. But if you have any sense for either of these things, you will surely enjoy this album. It is a magnificent work that will assuredly be pulled from the shelf many times in the months and years ahead. Thank you, Aaron Neville, for your devotion.