AL GREEN: ‘Lay It Down’ (Label: Blue Note)

  • Home
  • Reviews
  • AL GREEN: ‘Lay It Down’ (Label: Blue Note)
AL GREEN: 'Lay It Down'

“The music sounds different. It’s like fresh cream, baby – it’s like the first time I ever made a record. It’s so fresh and so new and so frisky – just like a 16-year-old girl! It’s music to kick your ass to.” These were the hyperbolic words of a wildly enthusiastic Al Green talking about his forthcoming album when I spoke to him last year for Blues & Soul magazine. The album was slated for an August 2007 release but failed to appear. Now, thankfully, almost a year down the line from our conversation, the album that the Reverend Al waxed so lyrical about is here. And though it’s not quite as sensational – or indeed different – as its creator so extravagantly opined, it is, without doubt, a very fine soul record. After two long players for Blue Note with Green’s long time collaborator, Willie Mitchell, at the helm, the Arkansas-born singer elected to try something different and as a result teamed up with producers James Poyser and Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson. What has transpired, though, is a record that doesn’t deviate much from the template of Green’s classic Memphis Hi sound – sure, Thompson’s Roots-style drum sound has a crisper, more contemporary feel, but in the main, the music and arrangements (which include lashings of sanctified Hammond B-3 organ, horns and strings) are very 1974. However, with cameos from Anthony Hamilton (on the delectable title track and ‘You’ve Got The Love I Need’), Corinne Bailey Rae (on the slow, plaintive ballad, ‘Take Your Time’), and John Legend (‘Stay With Me By The Sea’), Green is obviously attempting to interface with the younger neo-soul/R&B crowd. Mercifully, though, he hasn’t compromised his sound in trying to embrace this new audience, and – thanks to the respectful sensitivity of Poyser’s and Thompson’s contributions, who acknowledge Green’s past and soul music’s traditions – has made a magnificent record that stands proud alongside the classic albums of Green’s canon. There are eleven tracks on offer here and none are sub-standard. Green’s tenor voice – even at 62 years old – is still amazing: it’s lithe, pliable, athletic and supremely expressive. The standout cuts include ‘No One Like You,’ the infectious mid-tempo ‘All I Need,’ the driving ‘I’m Wild About You,’ and ‘Just What I Need.’ Though it’s not quite as ‘new’ or ‘frisky’ as Al Green claims, ‘Lay It Down’ nevertheless represents a superlative return from the sweet-voiced Southern soul man.
(CW) 4/5