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AL GREEN: A SOULFUL EVENT
There are album releases – and there are album releases that one could consider as ‘events’! Al Green’s latest project, the excellent “Lay It Down” on Blue Note Records, clearly falls into the latter category. Produced by Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots and Philly hitmaker James Poyser, the CD features guest appearances by the likes of John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae and Anthony Hamilton – which could be enough in itself to draw the attention and enthusiasm of soul music enthusiasts. But even if there were no guests on the album, it would be worthy of examination just because of Al’s legendary status in the world of R&B. The fact is, “Lay It Down” is - in my opinion – his best work since the mid-‘70s, the glory days at Hi Records where producer Willie Mitchell and Al created a dozen or so contemporary music classics. Not that he hasn’t made some great records since then: it’s just that “Lay It Down” is a consistent sonic joy, capturing Al at his soulful best.

During a May interview (at which time I reminded Al that we first met during his own first visit to the UK around 1973 when he was brought in for shows in Britain by Contempo/Blues & Soul), the Reverend Green agreed that when people tell him it’s his best work in decades, “my reaction is that they are right. If you’ve been a listener of Al Green’s music, it’s impossible not to love it!”

When the idea of working with ?uestlove and Poyser was first broached by Blue Note executives, Al’s response was positive: “It was like ‘back to the future,’ amazing! These are the new kids on the block, they’re coming up and they’ve been doing a great job so I thought if they want to work with me, let them. They wanted me to write the songs, which is the same as it was back in ’72, ’73 and both of the producers told me, ‘We don’t want to change you.’ They played the music the way they felt it and I just wrote the songs, sitting right there on the studio floor at Electric Ladyland studios…”

To start with, Al recalls, “I had nothing written down and that first night in the studio, I wrote eight songs! The music just overflowed and I didn’t make it stop. We went to 2:00am – and boy, I was tired! I’d given my everything to the music…” The organic feeling and flow in the music is indeed evident and Al attributes that to the relationship he developed with ?uestlove and Poyser: “We ate together, we worked together…It was very similar to the sessions I did with Willie Mitchell – going over the songs in the studio just like we did back then,” Al says.

The inclusion of the handpicked special guests definitely added something to the proceedings: “Anthony Hamilton is so real and genuine. When we recorded together (the title track and “You’ve Got The Love I Need”), it wasn’t about who’s the star or who’s going to top the other vocally, it was just about ‘let’s get the job done’. I remember there were sheets of paper everywhere – I was trying to write (the) two songs at the same time!”

Britain’s Corinne Bailey Rae can be heard on the standout track, “Take Your Time” and Al says, “She was such a doll. She brought her guitar and just set up in the booth. We ended up doing three or four songs together…” When John Legend came to the studio, “he brought his computer along but didn’t get to write much on it! He was a great guy, a wonderful artist, a loving spirit and a charm to work with,” Al states. The collaboration between Green and Legend resulted in another great cut, “Stay with me (By the Sea),” released as a first single in the U.S.

For co-producer James Poyser, the experience of working with one of soul music’s pioneers was unlike any other. “I didn’t really do any homework before I met Al because I was already familiar with his sound,” he explains. “?uestlove and I pretty much knew what we wanted to do so we called in players that we felt could fit the vibe.” James remembers, “When we first meet Al at the hotel, we didn’t know what to expect or what kind of personality he would have…and he turned out to be a real cool guy.” As far as the sessions went, James adds, “We started jamming and four of the ideas we came up with turned into songs. It was really organic and a lot of the first takes were what ended up on the record like “Lay It Down” – Al was literally writing it as we were playing, coming up with the lyrics off the top of his head.” James says that there were a couple of times during the sessions when he found himself in awe: “To work with a legend like Al Green is up there…and sometimes when we were working, I’d think, ‘wow, that’s Al Green – he’s saying my name!’ He has one of the greatest voices in history and I almost like I was right there in the ‘70s in Memphis…”

To his credit, the credit of his fellow producer ?uestlove, the musicians involved (including the Dap-King Horns, known for their work with Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse) and Al himself, “Lay It Down” indeed evokes that same good feeling that permeated those ‘70s sessions at Royal Studios in Memphis. Much like those who’ve listened and had the same response, Al himself says, “I love it,” adding that back in the day when he was making all those Hi Records’ timeless tunes, “I never thought my music would get the kind of reaction it does today…it does surprise me…” It might surprise the good Reverend Green but it’s no surprise to anyone who grew up listening to albums like “I’m Still In Love With You” and “Call Me.” No doubt about it, “Lay It Down,” created thirty-five years after those records were made, ranks among Al Green’s best and is truly worthy of the attention of any self-respecting soul music aficionado!

About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.
  
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