Album Reviews

Al Green – Lay It Down

(Blue Note) UK release date: 26 May 2008

Al Green - Lay It Down Following his Definitive Greatest Hits collection from last year, legendary ’70s soul singer Al Green continues the revival of his classic soul sound with Lay It Down, his third release for the Blue Note label.

Green, who was inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995, has enjoyed a long and successful career. He departed from his soul roots for a decade of gospel music in the ’80s (he is, like Joseph Simmons of Run DMC, a Reverend), only to return to secular music tentatively in the early ’90s. A decade later, he found a home at Blue Note that allowed him to once again achieve popular success with soul, releasing the acclaimed I Can’t Stop in 2003 and Everything’s OK in 2005.

For Lay It Down, Green chose to work with The Roots‘ Guestlove instead of longtime producer Willie Mitchell (who has worked with Green since 1970’s Green Is Blues) in an openly recognised bid to direct his classic soul sound towards the tastes of today’s youth. But fear not – his collaborations with John Legend, Corrine Bailey Rae, and Anthony Hamilton do not dilute any of Green’s majesty. In addition to these well-known collaborators, The Dap-Kings, currently known for their work with talented soul singer Sharon Jones, provide a wonderful backing for Green’s impassioned singing.

The album’s title track kicks off 11 songs of rich sounding contemporary soul. Smooth strings interject in a call-and-response styled chorus and Green sweet-talks his way through the verses: “Really, I just love you for yourself – I don’t want nobody, no, no, no, nobody else!” When you get through close to five minutes of preaching on the song, you’re convinced that the king of soul is telling the truth.

The horns start to play a more important role on Just For Me, as they replace supporting lines with more ear-catching riffs. And although all the songs on Lay It Down flaunt a mid-tempo soul structure, there are interesting differences in the timbers present in the different tracks. A muscular rhythm section takes hold of You’ve Got The Luv I Need and I’m Wild About U, while guitars dominate No One Like You and a piano features prominently in Too Much.

As you might be able to tell in the song titles, much of the lyrical style here is simple and direct. It works perfectly for Green, as you can sense his emotions through his vocal intonations, which is, of course, a main pillar of classic soul music. Combined with ?uestlove’s attentive production work and the variety provided from his collaborators, Green’s latest work flourishes.

Though it adds no innovation to the genre, Lay It Down’s tried-and-true approach should appease longtime soul fans. And hopefully the album will reveal Al Green’s majesty to a whole new generation of fans in the way he intended through his collaborations with contemporary artists.

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Al Green – Green Is Blues
Al Green – Lay It Down
Al Green & Candi Staton @ Royal Albert Hall, London