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Aaron Neville shakes a funk feather on ‘Apache’

urlAaron Neville, “Apache” (Tell It Records/Kobalt)Aaron Neville picks up the pace and delves into songwriting on “Apache,” a lively album meshing New Orleans R&B with Brooklyn funk.

Ably guided by Soulive’s Eric Krasno and backed by members of Lettuce and session aces like keyboardist Pete Levin and sax player Cochemea Gastelum, Neville’s famous falsetto and vocal quivers shine brightest on the ballads while also raising some of the brisker tunes above where they belong.

Evoking a childhood nickname, one of several inspirations behind the choice of title, the sounds on “Apache” are set firmly around the early 1970s. Deep guitar grooves and brash horns call to mind Neville peers like Isaac Hayes and Al Green, though there’s more style than substance in some efforts.

“Orchid in the Storm” and “Stompin’ Ground” form a wonderful combination. The first namechecks his excellent 1983 mini-album and oozes romance, while the second is a tribute to his roots and mentions a phonebook-worth of New Orleans characters and landmarks.

“Fragile World” is a Marvin Gaye-like homily about environmental, political and other disasters which nearly veers off the edge of preachiness. More effective is “Make Your Momma Cry,” a cautionary tale whose brotherly tone hits hard, especially because it may already be too late.

Fifty years after “Tell It Like It Is,” Neville’s biggest solo hit, the New Orleans native who relocated to New York City after Hurricane Katrina is still inspired and inspirational on slow ones like “Heaven,” ”I Wanna Love You” and “Sarah Ann.” They all give one of American music’s most distinctive voices another chance to stir hearts and souls.

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