In 1994, I moved to New Orleans, where I lived until 1998. I loved my time there and still love the city today. Life in NOLA is hard to explain to those who’ve never been, or maybe only spent time partying in the French Quarter. It’s unique in so many ways, and as my children grew up, we tried to expose them to it as often as we could.
Unlike many U.S. cities, neighborhoods in New Orleans are often racially integrated. They call them “checker-board neighborhoods,” which gives you a depiction of how white and black families live side-by-side. That doesn’t mean racism does not exist in NOLA. It does, just like any other city or town in America. But relations between races is very different there in that the identities are more closely shared than in other places across the U.S.
Among several factors is that the city is a living, breathing celebration of life and music runs through New Orleans’ veins. You very well might run into it at nearly any turn, and oftentimes, that music is being played or enjoyed by multicultural audiences, regardless of the style. This can create a unique sense of community that has the ability to overshadow differences.
All of this leads us to our most recent guest on The Load Out Music Podcast: the great Ivan Neville. He’s not only a true king of modern-day funk and standard-bearer for New Orleans music, but the son of one of the most distinctive vocalists of the past half-century—Aaron Neville of the legendary Neville Brothers.
“I saw my own place in the conversation about our musical and cultural heritage and history,” Neville said. “I got to see my role in the evolution of the music of New Orleans. The crowds may not have seen the Neville Brothers back in the day, most of the audiences were too young for that. But spiritually speaking, these were the Brothers’ children and that makes me appreciate what (his band) Dumpsta does even more. You become an elder, a teacher, by example.”
Neville and I spent time reminiscing about our shared NOLA haunts—I lived a block from his family’s home for a time—but then focused our conversation largely on the evolution of his career that emerged from his father’s shadow long ago. After all, we’re talking about an artist who has performed or recorded with the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, Robbie Robertson and is a charter member of Keith Richards’ X-Pensive Winos.
Now, Neville is out with his first solo record in nearly 20 years and he has a lot to say about life, fatherhood, sobriety, and what he and I believe might be the greatest place on earth—New Orleans.
“I haven’t written any new material for myself in a long time,” Neville explained, “So this project is very special to me. I made it up as I went along, a song here and there.”
The new record, Touch My Soul, is filled with joy, beauty and pain. It exudes an unmistakable New Orleans feel and breathes new life into Neville’s singular sound. It’s both a love letter to the Crescent City and a celebration of his emotional and spiritual journey as an artist, a father and a man.
“When I was growing up,” Ivan said about the spirit of Touch My Soul, “People interacted differently on the street. They acknowledged each other. There was a feeling of connection. Just a nod or a look that said, ‘Where y’at?’”
And with that in mind, Neville brings together old friends on the album, with vocal contributions from hitmakers Michael McDonald and Bonnie Raitt, Big Aaron and David Shaw of the Revivalists, and instrumental sparks from Troy Andrews on trombone and violinist Theresa Anderson.
“I wanted familiar voices to bring back a feeling of community,” Ivan said. “I figured, if everyone said hello to a stranger, spontaneously but within reason, it might make the world a better place. It certainly can’t hurt.”
That sense of community-mindedness extends throughout Touch My Soul—one that is alive with the pulse of the Crescent City.
“When I think about the way music has touched my soul and all the songs that became special moments in my life, I become very emotional,” added Ivan. “Music should touch your soul. I hope this record and this music touches someone’s soul.”
Ivan Neville unquestionably has that ability to touch your soul, so sit back and enjoy the latest episode of The Load Out Music Podcast with the modern standard bearer of New Orleans funk.