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Aaron Neville - Believe Print E-mail
Tuesday, 28 January 2003

Aaron Neville

format: DVD-Audio
label: Silverline Records
release year: 2003
performance: 8.5
sound 8.5
reviewed by: Tim Hart

Image My first exposure to Aaron Neville came as quite a surprise. Opening up for the Grateful Dead on the legendary New Year’s Eve show at the Oakland Coliseum in 1987, the Neville Brothers Band took the stage by storm. By the third song, you knew that this was something truly special. And if you were still in your seat after listening to this decidedly New Orleans sound, with the Neville Brothers’ polyrhythmic onslaught, outstanding horns, and soaring vocal harmonies, then somebody should have called Rock Med, because you were obviously deceased.

At first it wasn’t clear who the front man was, as the vocal harmonies created by the four brothers were very impressive, and all of the brothers had stunning voices. But as more songs were played, it was apparent that one voice stood above the rest. Aaron Neville captivated me with his distinctive, floating, iconic style. From that point on, whenever the Neville Brothers Band would come into town, I would try to make at least one show.

When I found out that I would get to review Aaron Neville’s latest DVD-A, Believe, I couldn’t believe my good fortune, pun intended. Believe is a spiritual outing, and harkens back to Neville’s roots, tied to gospel music growing up. He admittedly is a very spiritual person. To him, singing these songs is medicine for his soul, because at times in his life, music was all he had. The songs he chose for this project speak of direction, faith, and hope, all elements that guided him through the trials of his early life.

Starting off with “Steer Me Right,” Neville’s lilting vocals are set dead center and slightly behind the speakers. The quality of the 96kHz/24 bit MLP recording is immediate and impressive, highlighting the midrange resolution and texture of his voice. Accompanying backing vocals coming from the rear channels are no less detailed, bringing attention to the sibilance and throaty character of an aspect of the recording that doesn’t usually get noticed that much. The higher resolution certainly makes this a bigger part of the song. The alto sax has that wonderful guttural growl that really comes to life with the added bandwidth of the format. All aspects of the recording take on a more natural stature and sound very unanalytical.

The female backing vocals on “I Believe” blend seamlessly with Neville’s voice, complimenting the surround mix. It is no easy feat to blend so many elements together while not overshadowing subtler aspects of the recording. Gary Lux, who handled the mixing, did a very nice job of choosing the layout of each song.

“Serve Somebody” utilizes horns and a deep fat bass line for this rendition. The bass textures are fleshed out and well defined. String vibration is convincingly in the room and sounds real, while the transients of the horns are vibrant and sparkling.

“Oh Happy Day” also makes great use of a heavy bass line to update this tune and add a different take. Along with more female backing vocals, a nice guitar riff and the benefit of choir and organ give this gospel tune a New Orleans twist and dynamic sound. The enveloping quality of the mix puts you at the center of the performance, an effect that really works well with this song.

Until now, the tunes are mostly upbeat and joyful. “Ave Maria” starts the less happy side of the CD. Neville’s voice on this tune is incredible, but he doesn’t sound as fluid with the Latin vocals as on his other songs. It comes across as a song that he feels challenged by, and because of this, there is less feeling to it than the other songs on this effort.

“A Change Is Gonna Come” highlights Neville’s vocal control and range. The way he changes from note to note has an almost yodeling quality to it, but without the sharp-edged note definition of that singing form. Vocal textures grab your attention to the entire range of nuance displayed with the 96kHz/24-bit MLP format.

At the start of “Going Home,” the thunder storm and rain surrounds you, with Neville’s voice joining seamlessly into the mix, along with piano and a chorus of backing vocals that come together in an emotional presentation that takes you to another place. This song is one of the best on the DVD-A. The emotion is heightened by Neville’s soulful voice and captured in all of its warmth and glory, utilizing all of the tracks of the recording in the best way possible. This is a great mix.

Extras on the disc are sparse but special. There’s a pretty cool five-minute video sequence that features interviews with producer Barry Beckett and Aaron’s son Ivan Neville, an artist in his own right, a behind-the-scenes session video from “Amazing Grace” and Ave Maria,” liner notes for each selection that give a brief history of each song, a bonus track, “With God On Our Side,” and the complete set of lyrics. With the amazing vocal talent of Aaron Neville, DVD-Audio has no choice but to sound outstanding.

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