Can Al Green Lay It Down Again?
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
With hits like "Let's Stay Together," "Tired of Being Alone," and my personal favorite, "Here I Am," singer Al Green defined the soul generation in the 1970s. He's now a man of God, but Reverend Green's latest album called "Lay It Down," is strictly secular. Oliver Wang has this review.
OLIVER WANG: There were a few R&B teams more successful than Al Green and his long-time producer, Willie Mitchell, at Hi Records. Together, they created a string of definitive soul hits, and Green's first two comeback albums after devoting himself to the Lord, were made with Mitchell.
(Soundbite of song "I Can't Stop")
Mr. AL GREEN: (Singing) I can't stop. I just can't stop from loving you.
WANG: For "Lay It Down," though, Green has taken a different tack, turned in to James Poyser and Ahmir Thompson of the rap group, The Roots. So you might expect Green's new album to feature scores of chart-topping guests(ph) artists, and contemporary pop production, like recent efforts by Carlos Santana, or bossanova legend, Sergio Mendez.
(Soundbite of song "Love Is Everywhere")
Mr. SERGIO MENDEZ: (Singing) Love is everywhere 'cause I know by the way he looks at me. It's the love, our love is in your eyes. Your look, your smile.
WANG: Unlike Mendez, Green goes in the opposite direction on "Lay It Down." In the words of co-producer Thompson, this album aspires to be quote, "the true follow up to Belle." That's Green's 1977 album, widely considered to be his last significant soul LP, before turning to gospel.
In a strange way, "Lay It Down" more resembles the retro-soul styling of such artists as Sharon Jones or Amy Winehouse, except that Green gave birth to the very trend those artists are now ripping off.
(Soundbite of song "All I Need")
Mr. AL GREEN: (Singing) I wanna tell you one last time. You're all I need. Don't want no fussing. Don't want no crying, yeah. Everything to me...
WANG: Producers James Poyser and Ahmir Thompson, do an impressive job of recapturing the crisp precision and stirring sound of the high-rhythm section, except with mostly younger players. There's Thompson himself on drums, plus the well-traveled Daptone Horns of Jones and Winehouse fame.
But the most impressive instrument is still Green, himself. Even after 40 years, his glorious voice still aches with both sensitivity and sensuality, managing to make even melancholy sound seductive.
(Soundbite of song "Lay It Down")
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) I just met you, just the other day. Everything started flowing my way. Ooh, yeah. I just love you. Really, I just really love you for yourself. Mmm. I don't want no one, no, no, no. Nobody else, lay it down, oh yeah, oh baby. Put your head on the floor. Wooh, lay it down, lay it down...
WANG: If the goal was to create a credible-sounding, lost Al Green album, then "Lay It Down" mostly succeeds. It does have that old-time loving feeling. However, in recent years, some of Greens contemporaries have taken on more daring projects, whether it's Detroit's fiery Bettye LaVette, covering alt-rock favorites Aimee Mann and Fiona Apple, or veteran soul man, Solomon Burke going country.
Lay It Down isn't anywhere near as adventurous. Instead, it's more like an old recipe rediscovered, familiar, comfortable, but not anything you haven't heard before. Yet, while it's not a reinvention, it can be a satisfying reintroduction. You only need to turn on the radio to hear Green's influence on pop music.
Now, with this new album, listeners can dispense with the imitators, and hear the originator.
(Soundbite of song "Lay It Down")
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) When I see you, I will love you more, and more, and more, and oh, lay it down. Lay it down. Lay it down.
ALEX COHEN, host:
Oliver Wang is a music writer based in Los Angeles.
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) You better, you better lay your body.
COHEN: Finally today, we say goodbye to producer Martina Castro(ph). She's leaving Los Angeles for San Francisco. We will miss you, Martina. Good luck.
BRAND: And maybe a lot of people don't know that she's been directing this show. She's fantastic. She's a great director. She's also a surfer. So, we hope she'll be catching some tasty waves up north where she moves to. Bye, Martina.
COHEN: Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.
BRAND: And I'm Madeleine Brand.