sexta-feira, março 31, 2006

Neville Brothers keep hope alive (by Dave Hoekstra para The Chicago Sun-Times)

Aaron Neville has blessed a generation of music fans with the voice of an angel. But now he's searching the heavens for strength.

The lead singer of the Neville Brothers has asthma, which is why he has not returned to moldy New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina -- and why the brothers will not appear at next month's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Meanwhile, Joel Roux, his wife of 47 years, is fighting lung cancer. She began radiation treatment just this week.

Aaron, 65, and Joel live in Nashville, Tenn., but the Neville Brothers are now spread out across the United States. "I don't see my brothers except during gigs," Aaron said last week from Dallas, during a break from a two-day tour with Linda Ronstadt. "So it is like a family reunion. I'll be glad to see them."

Percussionist Cyril Neville relocated to Austin, Texas, after the post-Katrina floods took out his Gentilly neighborhood in New Orleans. He said last fall he would not return. Horn player Charles Neville has lived in rural Massachusetts for a decade. "[Keyboardist] Art's house didn't get much damage," Aaron said, "so he's back in New Orleans."

Aaron met Joel on Valance Street in New Orleans when they were teenagers. They were introduced by Larry Williams' former drummer Leo Morris (now known as Idris Muhammad)."She was going to her aunt's house to get her prom dress made," Neville said in soft tones. "Leo passed and started talking. I asked her for her phone number. I was about 16, she was four or five months older than me.

"We were kids" -- and then he stopped. "The doctors told us she wasn't going to last three months," he continued. "That was more than two years ago and we held prayer vigils. Last night, we set up the speaker phone between me, her and our granddaughter, and we said our prayers."

Live performances serve as a distraction for the emotional weight Neville now carries. His soft, fluttering tenor always has absorbed the essence of every song he sings. "Some songs I have to take out," he said. "Tonight I cannot do 'Amazing Grace.' It will tear me up. I can do the fun stuff, and that's a distraction. And to sing with Linda is always good.

Neville's doctor told him not to return to New Orleans because of his breathing problems. His asthma took him down during Jazz Fest 2004. "We played Tipitina's one night, and it was hot and smoky, like being in a burning building," he said. "The next day at the fairgrounds it was cold and windy and dust blew all over the stage. Every time I opened my mouth, the dust went down my throat. The next two days I was in the hospital with bronchial asthma."

Later this spring, Neville will return to the safer grounds of the studio to begin work on an album called "Soulful Classics," scheduled for a fall release. "I'm looking at songs by Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Jackie Wilson," Neville said. "I'll probably do Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' and 'It's Alright.' "

Neville's ties with the sound of Chicago run deep, from Mayfield back to the smooth Nat King Cole. Neville contributes an immaculate cover of Cole's "Mona Lisa" on his 1991 "Warm Your Heart" record.

"Nat King Cole was the biggest thing in my house growing up," Neville said. "My mother had all his stuff, along with Louis Jordan and Sarah Vaughan. But he was the biggest. I used to think I was him at one time. I'd sing my way into the movies by doing Nat King Cole. I'd sing 'Mona Lisa,' and they'd let me in for free. I still think of my family whenever I sing 'Mona Lisa.' "

The Neville Brothers will tour the country this summer with the Marsalis family and Dr. John, in an effort to keep awareness raised for New Orleans and its rebuilding efforts. A Nevilles-Wynton Marsalis-Dr. John date is slated for June 16 at the Ravinia Festival. The Neville Brothers are also donating 60 cents from each copy of their current album, "Walkin' in the Shadow of Life," to the Red Cross' Katrina recovery efforts.

And Cyril, Art, Charles and Aaron's son Ivan join forces with the Meters, Irma Thomas and others as "The New Orleans Social Club" on the album "Sing Me Back Home," due out Tuesday on Sony BMG/Burgundy. Cyril does a sparse, soulful reading of the Curtis Mayfield composition "This Is My Country," which was a 1968 hit for the Impressions. Ivan Neville reworks John Fogerty's "Fortunate Son" with foreboding funk, evoking the phrasing of Sly Stone.

"They keep telling you to come back to New Orleans and everything is cool, but everything isn't cool yet," Neville said. "There is a lot of work to do. They have to make sure there are proper levees for that bowl surrounded by water. People have to be able to live without fear. I lived in fear for a bunch of years. I knew it was coming [Neville and his wife survived the floods of 1965]. Hurricane season is coming again. And with global warming they say storms are like hurricanes on steroids. I see images on TV, and my daughter and son go down there and take pictures. But everybody says pictures don't do it justice. You have to see it for yourself to understand how devastating it was."

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