Inquiring Minds: Talking Christmas Music With Aaron Neville

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Even for a stone-cold atheist (which Rocks Off is not), listening to Aaron Neville sing "O Holy Night" has to be one of the true pleasures of the Western world. The best-known voice of New Orleans' No. 1 soul-funk family dynasty thanks to songs like "Tell It Like It Is" and Linda Ronstadt duet "Don't Know Much," Neville's near-operatic tenor and heart-stopping falsetto can tackle anything from country to classical, but he definitely hits a different gear when baby, it's cold outside.

Neville, 68, has released two Christmas albums, 1993's Aaron Neville's Soulful Christmas and 2005's Christmas Prayer, and has three songs - including this one, "Please Don't Forget" - alongside Ray Charles, the Beach Boys and the Salvation Army Brass Ensemble on the brand-new The Weather Channel Holiday Party compilation. Rocks Off quizzed Neville, who serenades House of Blues this evening (with brother Charles in tow), about Christmas music and a few other things as he was relaxing before a show in Bartlesville, Okla., earlier this week.

Rocks Off: Which Christmas songs mean the most to you?

Aaron Neville: Traditional stuff like "Silent Night" - we do a good harmony thing on that, my bass player and my drummer. I like "The Christmas Song" and the stuff I did by Charles Brown, "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby." I have a CD called Christmas Prayer, I love that one. I do "White Christmas" - I did it slow on Aaron Neville's Soulful Christmas and I did it up-tempo like Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters did it on Christmas Prayer.

RO: Which Christmas songs can you live without?

AN: I don't even think about it like that. I don't sing all of 'em. I do "O Holy Night" and "The Christmas Song," "Mary's Boy Child" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Let It Snow." That's about it.

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RO: What's your favorite Christmas song to sing?

AN: Probably "Silent Night."

RO: Any particular reason?

AN: It's the traditional Christmas song, really. I think it is.

RO: What's the most recently written Christmas song you would consider a real classic?

AN: You know, I don't really get into 'em that much. I couldn't say. I don't know any traditional songs that were recently written.

RO: In the '40s, '50s and '60s, there seemed to be a lot of great Christmas songs coming out of pop and R&B, but not so much since. Why do you think that is?

AN: Maybe people aren't inspired. I don't know. It's an inspirational thing, the way I see it.

RO: There must be some interesting Christmas customs and traditions down in New Orleans. Can you tell us a few?

AN: I don't understand what you mean.

RO: Well, just...

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AN: New Orleans is just like anybody else. They don't do nothing no different than nobody else that I know of. People celebrate Christmas, they visit friends and family's homes, you know - Christmas dinner, that's about it.

RO: Are there any songs that are especially popular around Christmas in New Orleans that would be unique to the city?

AN: Maybe something Satchmo [Louis Armstrong] did back in the day. Satchmo had some cool Christmas songs out, like one called "Zat You Santa Claus?" He's definitely New Orleans.

RO: Just in general, how are things down there these days?

AN: It's coming along, slowly, but it's moving. People are building back up. A lot of places won't ever come back up, but it's making a lot of movement forward.

7 p.m. tonight at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837 or www.hob.com/houston.


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