Aaron Neville's voice has been one of the most distinctive in popular music since the 1960s. He is a natural for the sounds of spiritual music because of its otherworldly quality. This double-disc collection showcases Neville's performances of traditional hymns such as "Ave Maria," "Amazing Grace," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?" among others. Other cuts here, some from more modern sources, and some not specifically oriented to gospel though they are more often than not arranged as such (great production by Barry Beckett
and Art Neville
among others lends weight and wisdom to the arrangements). It matters not because Neville's heart is in every track. Whether it's his fairly radical version with melismatic improvisation on Edwin Hawkins Singers
"Oh Happy Day," backed by a full-on choir, or his deeply moving "Bridge Over Troubled Water," his understated read of Cat Stevens
' "Morning Has Broken" or Pete Seeger
's "If I Had a Hammer," the dedication to the material is the same. Likewise, interpretations of Bob Dylan
's "I Shall Be Released," and "Gotta Serve Somebody," are authoritative and revealing. Neville, whose immense talent hasn't always produced great recordings, delivers on all fronts here.