Al Green will still be knocking 'em dead both in the chapel and the concert halls...
Chris Jones 2008-05-16
Soul music; there's a lot of it about. But when you say 'soul' what exactly are we saying? Anyone who's read Peter Guralnick's excellent Sweet Soul Music knows that the roots of this genre lie in the semi-divine meeting point between the sacred and the profane. Ray Charles' call-and-response exhortations were born out of the church. And no one represents this dichotomy better than the 'Reverend' Al Green. Famously eschewing the sweaty Memphis stew of lust and love for his beloved church in the late 70s, he finally returned to the commercial/secular arena (in 1988 with a duet with Annie Lennox), presumably after he'd cleared his conscience with The Man Upstairs. The one thing that's become clear ever since is that spending time in the pulpit has, if anything, kept one of the best RnB voices in the world as expressive as ever. Lay It Down is marvellous.
The Roots' Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson produces, and sensibly keeps the vibe as close to the classic Hi-Records/Willie Mitchell-era sound as possible. Parping brass and loping drums leave space for that voice to stretch out and do its thing.
Of course, you can't be a legend and release an album these days without also 'featuring' some young guests to draw in anyone young enough to be unaware of the legacy. On Lay It Down it's Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and Anthony Hamilton who do the honours. They're all fine singers, and none of the tracks are an embarassment. But despite best efforts these are the low points on an otherwise splendid album. At 62 the Reverend still stands tall over all the acts that have been spawned in his name. On this showing Al Green will still be knocking 'em dead both in the chapel and the concert halls for a long time to come yet.