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Old pro puts a fresh stamp on vocal-group classics

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That feathery, quivering voice from a bouncer’s body remains one of pop music’s most startling contradictions. But Aaron Neville singing an album’s worth of doo-wop era and vocal-group classics from the 1950s and 1960s makes perfect sense in every possible way. And the more time spent thinking about that pairing, the more it’s apparent My True Story (Blue Note Records) was long overdue.

Now in his 70s, Neville grew up during the glory days of rock ’n’ roll’s vocal-group era, and recently he’s been quoted as saying, “I attended the university of doo-wop-ology.” His renditions of the songs that appear on My True Story are evidence that Neville — and his well-known collaborators — were very good students.

The album begins with “Money Honey,” one of three songs associated with The Drifters. And while Neville’s spins through “Under the Boardwalk” and “This Magic Moment” are thoroughly listenable and have their share of distinct touches, those songs have been covered to death and totally lack the familiar-but-not-obvious impact that “Money Honey” has. The same done-many-times-before realization applies to other tracks on My True Story, most notably “Gypsy Woman” (originally a hit for The Impressions) and “Be My Baby” (the signature Ronettes song).

What really makes the album worthwhile is Neville and company’s fresh takes on gems that haven’t been revisited nearly as much, most notably the title track (a No. 3 Billboard pop hit for The Jive Five in 1961) and “Ting a Ling” (a No. 1 Billboard R&B hit for The Clovers in 1952). Keith Richards and Don Was take a light-handed approach as the album’s producers, allowing Neville and his supporters (which include Jive Five singer Eugene Pitt and keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) to do the heavy lifting, and rightfully so. After all, the true beauty in the originals was in the vocal purity, harmony and interplay, along with the selfless, serve-the-song instrumentation, not studio sweetening or technological gimmicks — and the same can be said of My True Story.

— By Chris M. Junior