I Know I’ve Been Changed
Is there a whiteboard somewhere in Los Angeles with the names of America’s surviving roots-music legends scrawled on it? If not, it’s difficult to see how I Know I’ve Been Changed producer Joe Henry, Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett go about divvying up their respective console jobs. Over the past few years, these guys have seemingly been in a contest to outdo one another, helming stripped-down albums by the likes of Willie Nelson, Mose Allison, BB King and (of course) the late Johnny Cash, whose series of American Recordings collaborations with Rubin sparked the current back-to-basics craze.
For I Know I’ve Been Changed, Henry installed Aaron Neville in his South Pasadena studio with a band of LA session pros (including keyboardist Patrick Warren and slide guitarist Greg Leisz) and a sheaf of time-tested gospel standards. To fortify the music’s connection to Neville’s native New Orleans, Henry also recruited pianist Allen Toussaint, which is never a bad idea.
The deeply handsome result situates Neville’s idiosyncratic singing in perhaps its most natural context – no surprise, given how many times his vocals have been described as heavenly or angelic. He’s particularly good in ‘I Am a Pilgrim,’ where he gives a phrase as shopworn as ‘my weary soul’ fresh weight. But like a lot of these late-career make-unders, Changed is also a little bloodless. You keep waiting for fire and brimstone, but end up mostly with smoke.