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Eclectic, golden-voiced Neville sings at Oaklawn

By JACK W. HILL Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published August 21, 2014 at 1:55 a.m.

Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville

7 p.m. today (doors open at 6 p.m.), Finish Line Theater, Oaklawn, 2705 Central Ave. (Arkansas 7), Hot Springs

Sold out

(501) 623-4411, Extension 340

If anyone can be counted on to tell it like it is, it would be Aaron Neville. The New Orleans native, whose first hit song, "Tell It Like It Is," came out in 1967, is now charting his own course and doing his own thing with his famous falsetto voice.

The Neville Brothers turned into the Nevilles, but Aaron, Art, Cyril and Charles have gone their separate ways.

And Aaron Neville has even left the Crescent City behind.

"I was with my brothers for 35 years," Neville says. "But we're all doing our own stuff these days. Art's in the Funky Meters, Charles plays sax and Cyril is in a band, the Royal Southern Brotherhood, and he does solo things, too."

It took Hurricane Katrina to send the brothers their separate ways. When the devastating storm hit New Orleans in August 2005, Aaron evacuated to Memphis, then moved to Nashville, Tenn., and now has settled in New York. His wife of 48 years died in 2007, and three years later, he married a woman he had met when her job as a photographer for People magazine sent her on an assignment to photograph Aaron and his brothers.

Neville has always had a solo career performing R&B, pop, country and gospel music, so he has ample material to draw from these days.

"I do some of everything, from beginning to end," he says. "I have a quintet with me on keyboards, drums, bass, sax and guitar, and they also provide backing vocals."

Neville's guitarist will be enjoying a bit of a homecoming at the show tonight. Eric Struthers, who lived in Little Rock in the early 1980s, played with the Neville Brothers band. He joined Aaron's quintet in February 2012.

Neville has released 16 solo albums, starting with Tell It Like It Is in 1985, nearly two decades after the song of the same name topped the Billboard R&B chart for five weeks. He has recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Anne Murray. His most recent solo album -- My True Story, released in 2013 -- was a tribute to the "doo-wop" music of the 1950s, co-produced by Don Was and Keith Richards.

"Working with Keith was really a joy," he says. "We were like kids in the studio, and we came up with 23 songs, so there might be a sequel to that."

The 2013 album features Neville's interpretations of three Drifters' songs ("Money Honey," "This Magic Moment" and "Under the Boardwalk"), a Little Anthony & the Imperials hit ("Tears on My Pillow"), The Impressions' "Gypsy Woman" and The Ronettes' "Be My Baby."

"Some of the songs might not have been 'doo-wop' era hits, but that's the treatment we gave 'em," Neville says, laughing. "I was born in 1941, so I was still standing on street corners with guys, singing that way even after that era had passed."

His "doo-wop" recording dates back to his unique version of the "Mickey Mouse March," appearing on the 1988 Stay Awake Disney tribute album produced by Hal Willner.

Neville is taking advantage of current technology in his other creative endeavors.

"I write some poetry, and when I'm doing that, I write using my cell phone. I don't use pencil and paper," he says. "I'm working on doing my next solo album, and will set some of my poems to music. I've put out books of poetry and sell them at shows."

Weekend on 08/21/2014

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