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REVIEW: Aaron Neville Duo at the Dakota: The Last of the Great New Orleans Voices

Musician Aaron Neville returns to the Dakota Jazz Club this evening. Photo by Sarah A. Friedman.

We lost Allen Toussaint in 2015, Fats Domino in 2017, Charles Neville in 2018, Dr. John this past June, and Art Neville in July.  Aaron Neville may be that last great New Orleans voice of that generation, but he continues to perform. Neville visited The Dakota last night, with sparkling musical accompaniment by Michael Goods on piano and keyboards.

Inevitably, some things change for a performer in his late 70s. Neville was seated for most of the performance, and he had a lyric sheet that he referred to from time to time. However, it was the same amazing voice on display, with most of its range and power intact. The songs once again traversed styles and genres: from Doo-Wop to Jazz, Funk, Blues, Gospel, and even Country. Similarly, Neville retains his distinctive look: the interesting hats (the Neville family apparently favor Meyer the Hatter on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans), the still-massive biceps, the rings, the bracelets, and the earrings.

Musician Aaron Neville. Photo by Sarah A. Friedman.

Over the course of the evening, Aaron covered dozens of well-known songs, from 1950s standards like “Mona Lisa”, “When I Fall in Love”, and “Chances Are”, through 1960s hits like “Stand by Me”, “Cupid”, and “This Magic Moment”, and continuing on into the 1970s with “Killing Me Softly”, “Just the Way You Are”, “Fire and Rain”, and “Ain’t No Sunshine”.  Neville’s voice is at its best when expressing sadness, loss, and longing; at times, his singing verges on crying. This was displayed, perhaps most paradigmatically, when he sang his own 1991 tune, “Don’t Go, Please Stay”.

Neville has a legendary falsetto, but he can also bring richness to the low notes (doing his own bass harmony on “Goodnight Sweetheart,” during one of two encores).  He also on occasion picked up the pace, with songs like “Willie and the Hand Jive”, “Love Potion Number 9”, and a New Orleans medley of “Iko Iko” and “Jambalaya”.

Neville also found time to revisit a number of his hits: “Don’t Know Much” (originally a duet with Linda Rondstadt), “Tell It Like It Is”, and a Neville Brothers gem, “Voodoo”.  However, he did not play what is arguably his biggest pop hit, “Everybody Plays the Fool”. Perhaps he is saving that for his return performance at The Dakota tonight.

The Aaron Neville Duo returns to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, MN tonight at 7 PM.

Brian Bix