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First Listen: Aaron Neville, 'My True Story'

NPR icon by Stephen Thompson
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On paper, it doesn't sound terribly eventful: A 71-year-old New Orleans pop and soul legend records a straightforward album of doo-wop covers. But, while Aaron Neville's My True Story wallows unapologetically in the past — namely, in the stretch of '50s and early-'60s R&B that first fueled the singer's passion for music — it's really setting the Wayback Machine to "all of the above." With the aid of producers Don Was and Keith Richards (!), as well as studio aces like Benmont Tench and Greg Leisz, My True Story is painstakingly engineered to transcend trends; it's not trying to make doo-wop sound contemporary so much as dislodge it from its time capsule and free it to drift across eras.

Neville lends his distinctively floaty tenor to a handful of unavoidable and unimpeachable standards on My True Story — "Be My Baby," "Tears on My Pillow," "Under the Boardwalk," "This Magic Moment" — but he also shines a light on less ubiquitous past hits. Neville has been singing the praises of The Clovers' 1952 smash "Ting a Ling" at every opportunity for years now, and his version practically oozes appreciation for the chance to do it justice.

It's that unmistakable affection, dispensed with a sweet voice that's lost none of its considerable luster, which makes My True Story resonate as more than a mere footnote in Neville's half-century of music. It's a labor of love, to be sure, but the singer and his cohorts try something bold, too: They celebrate these relics in ways that make them feel relevant to the future.

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