Aaron Neville has spent much of his musical career harkening back to the classic eras of soul, doo-wop, gospel and crooning. But never has he fused the past and present in as galvanizing fashion as he does on Apache (out July 15 on Tell It Records). He invokes his past powerfully though his lyrics, on the first album in which he has contributed so much of the material, with “Stompin’ Ground” in particular serving as a litany of formative influences and a love letter to his native New Orleans. The present comes from the edgy propulsion of the dynamic, as Brooklyn producer Eric Krasno (Lettuce, Soulive) forges a groove that occasionally sounds retro but never nostalgic, with the Daptone horns evoking the Crescent City and even Philly soul but with a fresh aggression. Though his ethereal voice finds its perfect setting in the timeless waltz of “Heaven,” he has never been as soft as his ballads lead some to suspect. And though the chiseled body and scowl of the 75-year-old artist still suggest the ex-con he was, he has never been as hard as he appears. Here he occupies that middle ground, showing the street-smart social conscience on “Ain’t Gonna Judge You,” “Make Your Momma Cry” and the closing “Fragile World” that show how much more he has to offer beyond romantic ballads. And the spoken-word conviction of the latter (channeling Marvin Gaye) shows that he doesn’t need that falsetto to make himself heard.