Nature Boy: The Standards Album (Verve Music Group)

Aaron Neville

Released July 1, 2003

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2004




In the long and distinguished career of Aaron Neville, Nature Boy is unique. A deeply satisfying suite of standards sung with remarkable sensitivity, Nature Boy is both a hallmark and a revelation: Aaron’s feel for sweetly swinging jazz is pitch-perfect. He reinvents the Great American Songbook with a sure, soft touch; he lavishes his remarkable gifts on a project he calls “precious.” Nature Boy is a classic-and classy-in every respect.

Born January 24, 1941, Aaron is the third of the four famous Neville Brothers of New Orleans. A product of that city’s richly complex musical culture, his first vocal model was older brother Art, keyboardist and founder of the Meters. Brother Charles played sax with B.B. King while brother Cyril became Aaron’s partner in a funk band they called the Soul Machine.

Throughout the sixties Aaron recorded for local Louisiana labels, but it wasn’t until 1966 that he broke onto the national scene with “Tell It Like It Is,” the plaintive ballad that went #1 on the pop charts, a song still considered a classic in the annals of American music. Issued on the obscure Par-Lo Records, the hit unfortunately coincided with the label’s demise. With no follow-up and few royalties, Aaron’s career stalled. Beset by demons both professional and personal, he struggled for the next ten years.

Aaron, Charles and Cyril gigged as The Wild Tchoupitoulas in New York before returning to New Orleans in 1976 to record the landmark album of the same name. The Wild Tchoupitoulas album celebrated the Indian tribe whose leader, George (Big Chief Jolly) Landry, was the brothers’ beloved uncle and prime musical/spiritual inspiration. For the first time, all four Neville brothers recorded together.

The Neville Brothers began their string of successful albums in 1977, beginning on Capitol and moving to A&M. The high point came in 1989 with “Yellow Moon,” written and sung by Aaron, whose solo career was revived in 1991 with Warm Your Heart, the acclaimed album produced by George Massenburg and Linda Ronstadt.

“Linda,” says Aaron, “is the real reason my solo career found new life.”

It was Ronstadt who, in 1989, had featured Aaron on her Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, resulting in the #2 pop hit duet “Don’t Know Much.”

Aaron has won four Grammys: in 1989 for Best Pop Duo with Linda Ronstadt for “Don’t Know Much”; in 1989 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance with the Neville Brothers for “Healing Chant,”; in 1990 for Best Pop Duo with Linda Ronstadt for “All My Life”; and for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals with Trisha Yearwood for “I Fall to Pieces” in 1994.

He was named “Best Male Singer” two straight years in the Rolling Stone critics’ poll.

Aaron has recorded a dozen solo albums ranging in genre from gospel to country.

Now jazz.

“Jazz,” says Aaron, “was as much a part of my musical education as blues or funk. Brother Charles, who plays great tenor on this record, hipped me to modern jazz when I was a kid. He’s always been an inspiration. I call him the Horn Man. He’s my favorite sax player. He makes the thing talk. Charles is not only a founding member of the Neville Brothers, but he’s the musical director of the Aaron Neville Quintet. When I sing, I love having him beside me. He’s a gentle, beautiful man.”

“My dad, Big Arthur, was our first inspiration. He had a big voice like Arthur Prysock. Dad loved Nat Cole’s brand of jazz. Nat was his favorite singer and `Nature Boy’ his favorite song. I sing it in tribute to him.

“Rob Mounsey, who produced these sessions, initially brought me most of the material for Nature Boy. He had a vision for this project. In addition to the songs, Rob inspired me with his clean charts and selection of musicians. Roy Hargrove, Grady Tate, Ron Carter, Michael Brecker, Ry Cooder, Anthony Wilson-these are some bad cats. They got the mood just right. For me, jazz is all about mood. Jazz is all about standards that are connected to your soul, connected to your life.

“`The Shadow of Your Smile,’ for example, was something I used to sing at a little jazz club back home called Gloria’s Living Room. During that same period, I was loving Julie London’s version of `Cry Me A River.’ Loved it so much, in fact, one day I sang it joking around the studio for a little label who actually released it. Never did get paid.

“As a kid, I heard Annie Laurie sing `Since I Fell For You’ with Paul Gayten. Lenny Welch also tore up that tune. I had to sing it here. It’s one of those ballads that blurs the line between blues and jazz. I also had to sing `Our Love Is Here to Stay’ with Ella ringing in my ear. Ella’s voice has haunted me for years. Ella was an instrument.

“That’s what I was aiming for in Nature Boy: using my voice as a jazz instrument, letting that free jazz feeling flow through me. You wouldn’t call Jackie Wilson a jazz singer, but his `Danny Boy’ was far out. I didn’t take it that far. I loved Jackie’s version, but I just tried to do me. Ron Goldstein, the executive producer, suggested the song. Thanks, Ron.

“Everyone knows the way Ray Charles worried `Come Rain or Come Shine.’ Back in the day, I met Ray along the way. No one’s more soulful. Ray has an approach to jazz-he has an approach for all music -that stays true to his own style. He bends but never breaks. I hope the true is same of me.

“Of all the lady singers out there, Ronstadt is in a category of her own. There’s no one I’d rather sing with. It’s especially cool to be doing a classic like `The Very Thought of You’ with Linda. Like Ray and Aretha, Linda crosses over to any material that strikes her fancy. I love how we blend.

“To be singing these chestnuts – George Gershwin’s `Summertime,’ Cole Porter’s `In the Still of the Night’-brings me back to my parents. These were the songs they danced to. These were a few of the songs of my youth. That’s why I love `Blame It On My Youth’ and the line that says, `I believe in a child of three.’ I always say that my voice is a mixture of the strength and wisdom of my father, the love and tenderness of my mother, and the innocence of my childhood. My folks taught me that music, love and God are all one thing. So in singing these standards-these romantic songs that get prettier with each passing year-I feel more than an earthly love. I feel the force of God, the spirit of all love.”

Track Listing:

1. Summertime (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin / DuBose Heyward) 3:43

2. Blame It on My Youth (Edward Heyman / Oscar Levant) 4:11

3. The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble) featuring: Linda Ronstadt 4:31

4. The Shadow of Your Smile (Johnny Mandel / Paul Francis Webster) 3:37

5. Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton) 4:33

6. Nature Boy (Eden Ahbez) 2:42

7. Who Will Buy? (Lionel Bart) 4:20

8. Come Rain or Come Shine (Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer) 4:57

9. Love Is Here to Stay (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) 4:13

10. In the Still of the Night (Cole Porter) 4:51

11. Since I Fell for You (Buddy Johnson) 5:06

12. Danny Boy (Frederick Edward Weatherly) 2:31


Aaron Neville: vocals 

Rob Mounsey: piano, organ, keyboards, percussion

Ron Carter: bass

Grady Tate: drums

Anthony Wilson: guitar

Special Guests:

Linda Ronstadt: vocals (3)

Roy Hargrove: trumpet (2,10), flugelhorn (3)

Ray Anderson: trombone (4)

Michael Brecker: tenor saxophone (5, 9)

Charles Neville: tenor saxophone (11)

Ry Cooder: guitars (12)

Recorded January 5-7, 2003, at Avatar Studios, New York, by Dave O’Donnell

Orchestra recorded January 17, 2003, at Avatar Studios, New York, by Malcolm Pollack

Produced, arranged and conducted by Rob Mounsey

Co-produced by Aaron Neville

Executive Producer: Ron Goldstein

Mixed by Elliot Scheiner


Aaron Neville’s voice exists in that rarefied air occupied by only the most lyrical musicians, including Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone and Miles Davis’ muted trumpet. Sweet and throaty, reedy and always crying, it’s capable of bewitching anyone within hailing distance — including, in some cases, the singer himself. Nature Boy: The Standards Album, his first record for Verve, is naturally a jazz/vocal date; Neville tackled a dozen songs from the popular songbook, with accompaniment from a backing trio comprised of pianist (and arranger/conductor) Rob Mounsey, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Grady Tate (plus one or two appearances each from Roy Hargrove on trumpet, Ry Cooder on guitar, and Ray Anderson on trombone). Though he has never recorded an album of pre-rock standards before, over the four decades of his career Neville has gained a deep familiarity with songs of this weight — “Summertime,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “In the Still of the Night,” and “Cry Me a River.” Understanding their power, he treats them with the utmost respect, a measure of feeling and devotion that causes him to always meet expectations but, unfortunately, never exceed them. Any Aaron Nevillefan will know exactly what to expect from his version of “Summertime” or “Nature Boy” or even “Danny Boy,” and Neville never displays the focused interaction between song and singer that’s necessary to pull off a standard with decades of baggage attached. On several tracks, he does approach deserving the lofty term of jazz singer; he and Linda Ronstadt use their shared affection to anchor “The Very Thought of You,” and the burly singer goes along for a splendid ride when the band adds a delicious hint of suspense into “The Shadow of Your Smile” (Neville’s voice usually sounds better on darker material, lending a chill as when the sun passes behind a cloud). The American songbook should belong to him, an exceptional vocalist with such a deeply rooted performing persona, but it will do so only when he recognizes that the singer should never humble himself before the song.

John Bush (AllMusic)