Aaron Neville Duo
+ Henri Smith Trio$52.50 – $72.50 Buy Tickets
Until now, it’s been easy to separate Aaron Neville’s career into two separate but equal strains: the funky stuff he’s favored when working with his esteemed band of brothers, and the angelic balladry you associate with him when he’s punching his own time card as a solo artist. Casual fans might admit they don’t know much — to borrow a phrase — about Neville’s musical center, but they’ve perceived a certain split in his career. An education was to be provided, then, in the form of Apache, a solo album that made the case for Aaron Neville as the most holistic of soul men. Its hard R&B side matches anything the Neville Brothers ever recorded for true grit, while still allowing plenty of space for a singer who’s arguably the most distinctive vocal stylist on the planet to tell it like it is.
Apache also reflects Neville’s social and spiritual concerns, marking only the second time in his 56-year recording career that he’s co-written nearly an entire album’s worth of material. The words are straight out of a poetry journal he began keeping in the 1970s, which more recently migrated to his iPhone. The music was written and produced by a pair of collaborators well known to enthusiasts of the retro-soul scene, Eric Krasno (guitarist for the groups Soulive and Rustic) and Dave Gutter (frontman for the Rustic Overtones). Together, they’ve come up with a modern/revivalist marvel harking back to a golden age that produced classics like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On (which Neville just happens to reference in the eco-conscious “Fragile World”).
“I call it The Other Side of Aaron,” says the 75-year-old legend, offering an alternative album title, “because people know me from doing the ballads and New Orleans stuff. They’re getting another feel of Aaron” — a record that touches on the mystic gumbo of “Yellow Moon” and sheer sweetness of “Everybody Plays the Fool” while diverging toward a third path we’ve never quite heard from Neville in the studio. And as much as he wants to surprise long-time fans with it, he says he’s “hoping that a lot of other people that might not even know me get turned on to it.” Which is far from unimaginable: It’s easy to picture a 20-year-old listening to the tracks that feature the Dap-King horns and wondering who this new guy is who’s following in the tradition of Amy Winehouse.
To say that Henri Smith carries the torch for New Orleans is an understatement.
“Henri represents us very well everywhere … he does it with class and pizzazz and we love that!” stated Allen Toussaint, the legendary New Orleans musician, songwriter, producer awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama
“Like Satchmo [Louis Armstrong] and many others, Henri embodies the spirit of New Orleans Music in every performance,”
said Grammy-Award winner Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers.
Born and raised in New Orleans’13th Ward, Henri Smith grew up a music fan, but resisted performing for much of his life. As a boy, he was surrounded by musicians–The Neville Brothers, Papa French (of Preservation Hall Jazz Band), Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino and many others. Henri’s mother encouraged him to sing, which he did, but only in church. He also studied piano, at his mothers insistence, but in high school that conflicted with his first love, football. Football won.
After serving in the Army, Henri went home to coach and teach music camp. Plus he landed a DJ job at the famed New Orleans Jazz station WWOZ which led to his becoming the host of The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest).
At the 1999 Jazz Fest, Kermit Ruffins (featured on the HBO hit series Treme) surprised Henri by calling him to the stage and asking him to sing. He got a standing ovation.
In 2014, Henri released That’s When I Know It’s Mardi Gras, a live CD featuring Henri on vocals with Grammy Award-winners Charles Neville and Amadee Castenell on saxophone and flute.