With a family tree that takes in both The Meters and The Neville Brothers, Ivan Neville has pedigree. Touch My Soul is his first solo album in nearly 20 years. Performing as part of Dumpstasphunk has taken up much of his time the last 15 years or so, prior to that he spent time with The Spin Doctors, had his music appear in Hollywood movies, and singles in America’s Billboard charts, some duetting with Bonnie Raitt.
She, along with Michael McDonald, Ivan’s father Aaron Neville, and Dave Shaw all feature on opening track ‘Hey All Together’, in harmony and distinct individually near the end. It’s Neville Jr’s song though, and as the song implies one about togetherness, opening with the lines: “I don’t wanna believe it but it’s true, You don’t like me too much cos’ I don’t look like you”, then, further along singing “I thought things were getting better”, and that too was my false impression. Despite which it all veers towards upbeat optimism, a slap and pull bass keeping the pace, horns present but not grandstanding, with a communal R ’n B swagger that owes a little to the innocence of a children’s lullaby, not a million miles removed from Todd Rundgren’s similar good time tune ‘All The Children Sing’.
You’re immediately impressed by the production. This screams big time studio, as if it was recorded back in the late 80s-early 90s, Quincy Jones working in the next studio, David Foster syphoning off both the rough edges and raw talent of someone elsewhere. It’s not, and fortunately, while slick this probably has more to do with the standard of musicianship involved than looking to score US middleclass mainstream hit success.
More so this is about New Orleans, and the ever-present sounds found therein, as ‘Greatest Place On Earth’ proudly states. A less interesting travelogue than ‘Route 66’ true but you get the picture. Here’s it’s the guy on drums and most decidedly Trombone Shorty (who features on a number of tracks) you listen to musically through this Mardi Gras like celebration.
‘Might Last A Lifetime’ sounds like Lou Rawls fronting Rufus on a Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers number, albeit the latter isn’t featured, though Uncle Cyril Neville is. ‘Dance Music Love’ does it what says on the tin and would have had a 12” disco remix back in your parents’ day, kids – it’s Cameo meets The Isley Brothers. Funky, especially on the keyboards with wails of guitar never far away, as played by Doyle Bramall II.
Apparently, Neville wrote most of the music at a piano, alongside using tape loops, while thematically revolving around a love for New Orleans it is more generally a paean to peace, goodwill, and community spirit. Title track ‘Touch My Soul’ then is testament to those goals succeeding. Keyboards offer the kind of sound that heartfelt ballads deserved back before we saw this millennium in, part gospel, fully felt Neville sings with conviction. ‘Stand For Something’ then takes us back to rhythm and funk, with synths and horns filling out the sound, ‘Blessed’ being another spiritual ballad making effective use of keyboards.
Horns invite us in warmly for ‘This Must Be The Place’, where the upbeat grooves of previous tracks are held tightly here, while ‘Pass It All Around’ shares the love with yet another keyboard led ballad, or at least that’s the way it starts, that children’s lullaby vibe seems to sift in, backing vocals joining in as a trumpet heralds the better times evoked lyrically, beefing up musically near the end, only for the instrumental ‘Beautiful Tears (Thoughts & Prayers)’ to bid us goodbye carrying with it all the emotion you have for a child, all grown-up and leaving home.
Music is a broad church, one that didn’t use to differentiate. As Muddy Waters taught us, “The blues got soul, well, the blues had a baby and they named the baby rock and roll”. Some might consider this easy listening, if so, they’re not really hearing what’s being played. If you like Van Morrison, Little Feat, or dammit if you prefer David Coverdale’s early solo albums more than anything he’s ever done with Whitesnake, give this a spin – It’s a New Orleans melting pot of diverse sounds, with good time feelings all the way through. The sentiments espoused may be a little too soppy, rather than preachy, on occasion for some, but they’re sure sung well.
“Music is a way to make people feel better, it brings spiritual healing,” declared Ivan Neville, on discussing this album. I tend to agree. Mission pretty much completed here.
Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
Touch My Soul is released via Mascot Label Group/The Funk Garage and is available now (from here).
- Hey All Together
- Greatest Place On Earth
- Might Last A Lifetime
- Dance Music Love
- Stand For Something
- This Must Be The Place
- Pass It All Around
- Beautiful Tears (Thoughts & Prayers)