Aaron Neville and his Quintet featuring Charles Neville
8 p.m. Friday
House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., 310-4999; www.hob.com
There are two very familiar sounds on Aaron Neville's new gospel album I Know I've Been Changed: Neville's unmistakable lilting tenor and the piano work of Allen Toussaint.
"(Producer) Joe Henry had done some work with Allen," Neville says. "He suggested we bring him in. It also marks my 50th year recording. Allen did my first recording session."
In 1960, Toussaint recorded Neville's song "Over You" in a session Neville split with The Del-Royals.
For I Know I've Been Changed, Toussaint and Neville flew to California to record with Los Angeles musicians in a studio in Henry's basement. They recorded 13 songs over five days, including the gospel standards "Stand By Me" and "Don't Let Him Ride." The Sam Cooke song "Touch the Hem of His Garment" isn't on the album, but it will be offered as a download.
A stripped-down approach allows Neville's vocals to shine on most tracks. But there's an unmistakable New Orleans R&B sound to tunes like "I Done Made Up My Mind." And Neville wanted to record some of the older songs as they were played during the eras when they were originally released. The title track is a very bluesy cover of The Staples Singers' song.
"That's the way the Staples sang it," Neville says.
In his five decade career, Neville has applied his unique voice to a wide range of genres beyond New Orleans R&B, funk and gospel. He won a country music Grammy in 1994 for a duet with Trisha Yearwood, but he's better known for Grammy-winning pop vocal projects, including songs with Linda Ronstadt in the early 1990s. I Know I've Been Changed is his third gospel album, but he's put spiritual music on many of his releases, including "Ave Maria" on his platinum selling 1991 release Warm Your Heart (A&M), the Lord's Prayer on The Grand Tour (A&M) and "Crying in the Chapel" on The Tattooed Heart (A&M).
Neville spoke with Gambit from Minneapolis, where he's starting a tour that both supports the CD release and is a holiday show, including songs like "Oh Holy Night" and "Please Come Home for Christmas." Neville is touring with his quintet, which also features Charles Neville.
Aaron Neville has not been a regular figure in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina — flooding destroyed his home in eastern New Orleans. Neville spent the next couple of years with his wife Joel Roux-Neville, who was being treated for cancer at the medical center of Vanderbilt University. She died in January 2007, and devastated by the loss, Neville took time off from performing. In 2008, he moved to a home in Covington to be closer to his children.
Neville is now spending much of his time in Manhattan. On Nov. 13, he married New York photographer Sarah A. Friedman. But he still returns home to Louisiana for visits.
"I like coming down to the quiet of Covington," he says. "I sit there and listen to the birds. Then I go to New Orleans to see my friends, and I go shoot pool with a couple of my sons."